James Cleverly has promised a treaty with Rwanda to save the government’s failed asylum plan will be published “within days, not weeks” – but he refused to say when the first migrants would be deported.
The home secretary said a new bill to revive the scheme will move through the House of Commons “quickly” but he did not put a timescale on when the first flights will leave.
Rishi Sunak vowed on Wednesday to bring in emergency law to deem Rwanda a safe country and strike a new treaty with the African country, following a ruling by the UK’s most senior judges that the plan was unlawful.
He also vowed he would “not allow a foreign court to block these flights”, although he resisted pressure from the right of his party to immediately pull the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights to override the blocking of the scheme.
Meanwhile, Downing Street believes upgrading Britain’s agreement with Rwanda to a legally-binding treaty, from a memorandum of understanding, would address the Supreme Court’s concerns that asytmum seekers with genuine claims could be returned to the countries they fled.
Mr Cleverly on Thursday told Sky News: “It is ready, pretty much now, to turn into a treaty that can be done within days, not weeks or months, days.
“The legislation can go through the house quickly.” The treaty, which will be put to parliament in the coming days, will take a minimum of 42 days to be ratified, while the law deeming Rwanda “safe” is expected in the coming weeks.
Delays will depend on the level of pushback in the House of Lords, which the government has been warned could hold up the bill.
Pressed on whether the Lords would seek to block the bill, Mr Cleverly urged peers to “recognise that it is an absolute priority of the British people”.
Mr Cleverly also refused to commit to a date by which the first asylum seekers would be sent to Rwanda, following Mr Sunak who repeatedly refused to say whether it would happen before the next general election, expected next year.
He said: “I don’t want to, I don’t want to pick a date, where I can’t give that degree of certainty.”
While ministers insist the emergency legislation will lead to the revival of the plan, a central plan of Mr Sunak’s promise to “stop the boats”, it may face the same hurdles as the initial memorandum of understanding with Rwanda.
Ruling unanimously against the scheme on Wednesday, judges highlighted deficiencies in the Rwandan asylum system which could not be solved quickly.
They included a warning that Rwanda has a 100 per cent rejection rate for asylum seekers from conflict zones, including Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen.
The resounding rejection of the initial plan raises the prospect of the government’s new treaty also being thrown out by the courts.
Mr Cleverly said members of the upper chamber are “thoughtful people” and “should recognise that poor communities are under the most pressure from illegal migration”.
He added: “They should recognise that poor and vulnerable people around the world are being raped, sometimes murdered and robbed by these people smugglers.
“There is nothing humane about allowing this evil trade to continue.”