17 January 2024
Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Home Secretary James Cleverly opens the Third Reading debate of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Cleverly)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I of course echo the tributes to Sir Tony.

The Prime Minister, the Government and I have been clear that we will do whatever it takes to stop the boats, and we have of course been making progress on that pledge, reducing small boat arrivals by over a third last year, but to stop the boats completely and to stop them for good we need to deter people from making these dangerous journeys—from risking their lives and from lining the pockets of evil, criminal people-smuggling gangs.

The new legally binding treaty with the Government of the Republic of Rwanda responds directly to the Supreme Court’s concerns, reflecting the strength of the Government of Rwanda’s protections and commitments. This Bill sends an unambiguously clear message that if you enter the United Kingdom illegally, you cannot stay. This Bill has been meticulously drafted to end the merry-go-round of legal challenges; people will not be able to use our asylum laws, human rights laws or judicial reviews to block their legitimate removal. And the default will be for claims to be heard outside of this country. Only a very small number of migrants who face a real and imminent risk of serious and irreversible harm will be able to appeal decisions in the UK.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)

As things stand, can the Home Secretary confirm that if this Bill receives Royal Assent it will not breach international law; yes or no?

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend raises an important point and it gives me an opportunity to be unambiguous and clear. As drafted, as we intend this Bill to progress, it will be in complete compliance with international law. The UK takes international law seriously and the countries we choose to partner with internationally also take international law seriously.

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con)

The previous intervention was extremely apposite. Will the Foreign Secretary be kind enough to give me the advice as to why he said what he just did about no breaches of international law?

James Cleverly 

My hon. Friend will know that the Government do not make their legal advice public. We have put forward, of course, an explanation of our position but I am absolutely confident that we will maintain our long-standing tradition of being a country that not just abides by international law but champions and defends it.

Under our new legislation migrants will not be able to frustrate the decision to remove them to Rwanda by bringing systemic challenges about the general safety of Rwanda.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)

Can the Home Secretary assure us that if this Bill is passed tonight there will be a system in place that accurately tests its success, month by month and week by week, so that we know that all this anger, all this frustration, all this work is not for nothing?

James Cleverly 

The hon. Gentleman certainly speaks for a number of Members in the House, although maybe not too many on his own Benches, because it sounds as if he wants this to work, whereas plenty of Opposition Members have tried to frustrate our attempts to deal with illegal migration. But we will of course want to assess the success because we want to be proud of the fact that this Government, unlike the Opposition parties, actually care about strengthening our borders and defending ourselves against those evil people smugglers and their evil trade.

To be clear, we will disapply the avenues used by individuals that blocked the first flight to Rwanda, including asylum and human rights claims. Without that very narrow route to individual challenge, we would undermine the treaty that we have just signed with Rwanda and run the very serious risk of collapsing the scheme, and that must not be allowed to happen. But if people attempt to use this route simply as a delaying tactic, they will have their claim dismissed by the Home Office and they will be removed.

The Bill also ensures that it is for Ministers and Ministers alone to decide whether to comply with the ECHR interim measures, because it is for the British people and the British people alone to decide who comes and who stays in this country. The Prime Minister said he would not have included that clause unless we were intending and prepared to use it, and that is very much the case. We will not let foreign courts prevent us from managing our own borders. As reiterated by the Cabinet Office today, it is the established case that civil servants under the civil service code are there to deliver the decisions of Ministers of the Crown.

The Bill is key to stopping the boats once and for all. To reassure some of the people who have approached me with concerns, I remind them that Albanians previously made up around a third of small boat arrivals, but through working intensively and closely with Albania and its Government, more than 5,000 people with no right to be here have been returned. The deterrent was powerful enough to drive down arrivals from Albania by more than 90%. Strasbourg has not intervened, flights from Rwanda have not been stopped and the House should understand that this legislation once passed will go even further and be even stronger than the legislation that underpins the Albania agreement.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)

We obviously support the Albania agreement, but will the Home Secretary confirm that only 5% of Albanians who have arrived in the country over the past few years on small boats have been returned or removed? What has happened to the other 95%?

James Cleverly 

As I have said, it is about deterrence, and the deterrent effect is clear for anyone to see, with a more than 90% reduction in the number of Albanians who have arrived on these shores.

I am glad that the shadow Home Secretary chose this point to intervene, because it reminds me that the Labour party has no credible plans at all to manage our borders. The Opposition have tried to obstruct our plans to tackle illegal migration over and over again—more than 80 times. They even want to cut a deal with the EU that would see us receive 100,000 extra illegal migrants each and every year. [Interruption.] They cheer. The shadow Home Secretary is pleased with the idea that we are going to receive an extra 100,000 every year. They can laugh, but we take this issue seriously, because it is not what our country needs and it is not what our constituents want.

We are united in agreement that stopping the boats and getting the Rwanda partnership up and running is of the utmost importance. Having a debate about how to get the policy right is of course what this House is for. That is our collective job, and I respect my good friends and colleagues on the Government Benches for putting forward amendments in good faith to do what they believe will strengthen the Bill. While my party sits only a short physical distance from the parties on the Opposition Benches, the gulf between our aspiration to control our borders and their blasé laissez-faire attitude to border control could not be more stark. Stopping the boats is not just a question of policy; it is a question of morality and of fairness. It is this Government—this Conservative party—who are the only party in this House taking this issue as seriously as we should. I urge this House to stick with our plan and stop the boats.