The cabinet minister travelled to Kigali on Tuesday, as the PM attempts to make his plan to send asylum seekers to the African nation legally sound after the Supreme Court’s ruling against the policy.
Emergency domestic legislation is also planned soon, as Mr Sunak tries to assert that Rwanda is a safe country for migrants arriving on small boats to be send there on one-way flights.
Senior Tories on the right are demanding that the PM opts out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – warning it’s “three strikes and you’re out” after previous attempts to get Rwanda flights started.
But legal experts and charities believe the attempt to get flights started before the 2024 election will fail – with the government’s own lawyers said to be pessimistic about efforts to get around human rights law.
Mr Cleverly, set to meet his counterpart Vincent Biruta to sign the treaty, hopes the upgraded agreement will begin to address the issues that led the UK’s highest court to rule the “offshoring” deportation scheme unlawful.
Ahead of his arrival in Kigali, Mr Cleverly said: “We are clear that Rwanda is a safe country, and we are working at pace to move forward with this partnership to stop the boats and save lives.”
Although the Supreme Court judged Rwanda unsafe, the home secretary said the court had also recognised “that changes may be delivered in future to address the conclusions they reached”. Mr Cleverly added: “Rwanda cares deeply about the rights of refugees.”
UK lawyers are set to be sent to Rwanda to help process claims and ensure appeals are granted correctly. But the Kigali government is unlikely to accept any arrangement which would look like colonial-style legal interference.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick claimed that he is confident Rwanda flights will take off before the general election – as he described illegal migrants as having “broken into” the UK.
The hardline cabinet minister said “it’s profoundly wrong” for people to be entering the UK illegally on small boats, telling Sky News: “If you or I crossed an international border, or literally broke into another country, we would expect to be treated very seriously.”
Mr Jenrick said the emergency legislation would be set out in parliament “shortly” after Mr Cleverly signs the new treaty. However, senior civil servants at the Home Office are said to have warned No 10 that its Rwanda legislation is destined to fail.
Government lawyers are reportedly refusing to sanction the most draconian version, that would opt out of the ECHR by using a “notwithstanding” clause to direct UK judges to ignore it in asylum cases.
Tory moderate Sir Robert Buckland warned that opting out of the ECHR would be “foolish and rash” and would endanger the Good Friday Agreement. He told the BBC it would be “a very un-Conservative step”.
But senior Tory Mark Francois warned Mr Sunak that it could be “three strikes and you’re out” – urging the PM to to ignore the ECHR in the emergency Rwanda legislation.
The chair of the European Research Group (ERG) told GB News: “Rishi promised to stop the boats but … he hasn’t has he? We’ve had two goes before. Now it’s three strikes and you’re out”.
Sacked home secretary Suella Braverman’s mentor John Hayes MP is also demanding that the Tory leader opt out of the ECHR in its emergency Rwanda legislation.
“We need severe measures. It important to get those flights off to Rwanda – so we need to be really tough,” the leader of the Tories’ Commons Sense Group told The Independent.
The Law Society’s president Nick Emmerson said: “The suggestion of stationing British lawyers in Rwanda implies a lack of confidence in how cases would be handled there …. The government needs to admit the scheme is likely beyond repair.”
Former Boris Johnson adviser Dominic Cummings said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the Rwanda “trick” was never supposed to happen. “But because Tory-SW1 world is so insane, Boris’s trick to divert them has actually worked far better than he planned … with even the new PM treating it as if it were an actual plan.”
There has been speculation that Rwanda is pushing for more money on top of the £140m already committed. The Sunday Times reported that the capital of Kigali is to be given a £15m top-up payment. But No 10 has insisted there had been no demand for extra money from Rwanda.
In a bid to cut record-high net migration, Mr Cleverly increased the salary threshold for foreign workers from £26,200 to £38,700 as part of a package set to come into force in April.
The measures announced on Monday also banned overseas social care staff from bringing dependants to the UK and the rule allowing the most-needed professions to be hired at 20 per cent below the going rate would also be scrapped.
Mr Jenrick has said more measures could be required to bring down legal migration. “You’re right to say that more things may need to be done, but without question this is a big step forward,” he told GB News on Tuesday.
In remarks sure to raise eyebrows in government, the immigration minister also said there would be “merits” to introducing an annual, “Australia-style” cap on net migration – a move demanded by sacked home secretary Suella Braverman.