Boris Johnson and Priti Patel’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda ground to an embarrassing halt last night. The inaugural flight was abandoned half an hour before take-off yesterday evening following an 11th-hour ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. Seven people had been expected to be on the flight, which had already been paid for by the public purse and cost an estimated £500,000. The government has paid £120m as a downpayment on the Rwanda deal and has refused to say how much it has spent in legal costs for each person it has attempted to send to the country.
Following a dramatic day of frenzied legal action and demonstrations by activists, the ECHR examined the case of one of the seven people up for deportation: that of a 54-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker who crossed the Channel in a boat. Despite a doctor at his asylum detention centre saying he may have been the victim of torture, he had been served with directions for removal. But the ECHR said in a letter on Tuesday evening that he faced “real risk of irreversible harm” should he be transferred to Rwanda.
Crucially, the High Court had earlier found that the Iraqi asylum seeker could be returned to the UK if his bid to overturn the Rwanda transportation policy succeeded. The ECHR, however, said there was no legally enforceable mechanism to ensure that he could come back from East Africa. Its ruling on this case then allowed lawyers acting for the other six to make successful last-minute applications in domestic courts, and the whole plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda came crashing down.
But the ruling has not killed the policy. The ECHR cited concerns in its decision that the asylum seeker would not have access to fair and efficient procedures for deciding his refugee status – and that there would be no legal mechanism to ensure he could return. Questions were also raised in the legal action yesterday as to whether the decision to treat Rwanda as a safe third country was irrational or based on insufficient enquiry. Last night’s intervention was an interim measure to allow the domestic courts time to consider these issues. We do not know how they will rule when they do so.
Labour MP Nadia Whittome has written for LabourList this morning, reflecting on the first conference of the Progressive Economy Forum held over the weekend. “What the PEF conference neatly showcased is the fact that we have no shortage of ideas and policy programmes, and that we have identified the right targets in rentier capitalism, climate apocalypse and the legacy of neoliberalism,” she wrote. “We must now be willing to turn outwards, into a campaign of social and industrial struggle, and to direct people’s anger when the cost-of-living crisis exposes our ruling class.”Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.