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UK immigration minister resigns over controversial Rwanda asylum legislation, claiming it ‘does not go far enough’

UK immigration minister Robert Jenrick resigned over new government legislation on the Rwanda asylum transfer scheme published Wednesday, claiming that the proposed law “does not go far enough.”

The government’s ill-fated plan to send some asylum seekers awaiting decisions on their claims to the African nation Rwanda has been the subject of extensive legal challenge since it was announced in April 2022.

Three successive Home Secretaries have attempted to take the policy over the line with efforts continuing despite the UK Supreme Court declaring the scheme unlawful in judgement handed down in November.

In the latest blow to the scheme, Jenrick who works within the Home Office, said he would not be able to accompany this latest draft bill through the legislative process as he does not believe it goes “far enough” to ensure the policy’s success.

“The stakes for the country are too high for us not to pursue the stronger protections required to end the merry-go-round of legal challenges which risk paralysing the scheme and negating its intended deterrent,” Jenrick said in his resignation letter.

Jenrick had previously promised publicly to do “whatever is required” to clamp down on illegal migration to the UK, even if that meant withdrawing from the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

A group of hardline lawmakers within Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party, including previous Home Secretary Suella Braverman, have all been lobbying for the UK to leave the human rights treaty, citing it as a barrier blocking the Rwanda policy.

The legislation unveiled by the government on Wednesday did not take the UK out of the treaty, but did have a vital caveat attached to it. On the first page of the bill, UK Home Secretary James Cleverley said he could not guarantee that the legislation was “compatible with the Convention rights.”

The bill also disapplies certain sections of the UK Human Rights Act, a staple piece of legislation which incorporated the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic UK law. Another clause stipulates that the bill is sovereign and its validity is unaffected by key international law instruments including the ECHR and the Refugee Convention.

The legislation was roundly criticized by Britain’s opposition Labour Party who pointed out this is the third draft legislation that the government has presented to parliament. Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper described the government as being in “total chaos,” saying it should be focusing instead on “going after” criminal gangs smuggling people to the UK.

Legal experts such as Mark Elliot, Professor of Public Law at the University of Cambridge, have also criticized the bill. In a blog post, Elliot described the bill as “hypocritical,” saying it “presupposes” Rwanda heeding its obligations under international law to treat asylum seekers humanely whilst allowing the UK to “breach its own obligations” under international law.

The government was also handed down a warning on Wednesday from the Rwandan government, who threatened to pull out of the arrangement if the UK does not adhere to international law, according to the British national news agency, PA Media.

Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta emphasized in a statement that “without lawful behavior by the UK, Rwanda would not be able to continue with the Migration and Economic Development Partnership.”

The next stage in the bill’s journey will see UK lawmakers debate its merits in parliament, in what is referred to as the “second reading.”

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