UK Supreme Court halts Rwanda refugee plan

The UK Supreme Court has shot down the government’s plan for certain asylum-seekers to be processed in Rwanda, labelling it “unlawful”.

We’ve read all 56 pages of the court’s decision so you don’t have to. The legalese gets complex in parts but, intriguingly, the judges delve into some of Rwanda’s recent history, including:

  • Rwanda’s “apparent failure” to uphold an earlier migration deal with Israel, and
  • at least 100 allegations of refoulement and threatened refoulement” (ie, forcibly returning people to a country where they’re at risk).

But the court says ultimately the issue isn’t “the good faith of the government of Rwanda at the political level, but its practical ability to fulfil its assurances.”

Domestically, the court’s decision caps an eventful few days for Downing Street (includinga shock cabinet reshuffle), and comes just as Prime Minister Sunak suits up for next year’s elections.

But regionally, the UK isn’t exactly an outlier. Irregular crossings through the Central Mediterranean have almost doubled this year, and more capitals are looking to third-country deals for an answer:

  • Italy recently announced it would build two migrant centres in Albania
  • Germany is examining the feasibility of its own Rwanda-style deal, and 
  • The EU and Tunisia are still working on their agreement from June.

And European supporters of this third-country approach have, in turn, long taken their inspiration from the other side of the world: Australia.


It’s hard to think of a more sensitive topic than migration, sitting right at the crossroads of national identity, state sovereignty, individual dignity, and international responsibility.

In that maelstrom, Sunak says he’ll rework his plan in order to address the court’s concerns. But anyone who’s familiar with Australia’s system (the model for the Rwanda deal) knows this is probably just the beginning.

Also worth noting:

  • Sunak’s vow to introduce emergency legislation came shortly after his Australian counterpart pledged his own urgent laws in response to a separate landmark court case on migration.
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