PCS continues fight against government Rwanda deal at annual conference

Katie Neame

Civil service union leader Mark Serwotka has said union members are “sick of clearing up the mess” caused by “ministerial incompetence” as the union continues its fight against the government’s plans to offshore asylum seekers in Rwanda.

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union launched a legal challenge in April, jointly with charities Care4Calais and Detention Action, against the government’s deal to offshore part of the UK’s asylum processing to Rwanda.

The organisations contend that Priti Patel’s failure to disclose the eligibility criteria for being transferred to Rwanda is an unlawful breach of her duty of transparency and the wider constitutional right of access to justice.

They also argue that the removal of asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda would itself be unlawful, as the policy penalises individuals on the basis of irregular entry, in contravention of the Refugee Convention.

The PCS held its annual conference in Brighton this week and was joined by representatives from Care4Calais and campaign group Stand Up To Racism.

Serwotka said: “Our members are sick of clearing up the mess resulting from ministerial incompetence. PCS is not prepared to countenance our members being put in potentially dangerous and traumatic situations where they may be asked to act illegally and be liable to prosecution.”

The PCS previously took legal action against the government over its refugee pushbacks policy, which authorised Border Force officials to stop migrant vessels in UK waters and forcibly direct them back to France.

The government withdrew the policy in April, days before a judicial review on the subject was due before the High Court. The challenge was brought jointly by PCS, Care4Calais, human rights monitoring organisation Channel Rescue and charity Freedom from Torture.

Commentating at the time, Serwotka said the government’s decision was a “humiliating climbdown” by ministers and a “stunning victory for Home Office workers and for refugees”.

“There is little doubt that lives have been saved. The pushbacks manoeuvre is extremely dangerous and represents a clear risk to life and limb. We were simply not prepared to allow our members to be placed in this horrendous position,” he added.

Addressing the PCS conference on Tuesday, Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti said: “For a maritime nation such as ours, the so-called Channel pushback policy was as un-British as impractical, criminal and inhumane.

“I call it the reverse Dunkirk Spirit; owing far more inspiration to Boris Johnson’s recent mentor Donald Trump than his former hero Winston Churchill, who must have been spinning.

“Did someone forget to tell Johnson and Patel that this country’s national myth and finest hour was all about saving people in little boats, not turning those little boats around?”

Discussing the Rwanda deal, Chakrabarti declared that PCS and its allies are again “leading the resistance to this moral and human disaster” and added that her message to the Prime Minister and Home Secretary on the subject was “simple”.

“Your lawless and inhumane policies are not being thwarted by “activist lawyers” any more than they are being perpetrated by the government lawyers unfortunate enough to be working for you. You are being called to account by ordinary working people who care about common humanity and the rule of law,” she said.

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