Boris Johnson’s claim on sending migrants to Rwanda is misleading

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Boris Johnson’s claim on sending migrants to Rwanda is misleading

Boris Johnson, who detailed plans to send unauthorised migrants to Rwanda, blamed politically motivated lawyers for forcing the government to draw up such a drastic policy, and also for any failure to implement it.

By blaming them for Britain being seen as a soft touch for illegal migration continuing a government narrative against leftist lawyers, many believe that the prime minister is putting a fig leaf over a policy that is likely to be very difficult to defend in the courts and could end up in the European court of human rights.

Adam Wagner, a human rights barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, said that while detailed details were lacking, sending asylum seekers to a repressive country was dangerous and potentially unlawful.

That suits the government because I know the Home Office will have been advised that these aspects of policy risk are being struck down by the courts, but it's just part of their strategy of picking fights with lawyers and courts, and they can blame them for the policy not working, he said.

While Johnson expressed confidence that the policy was fully compliant with international legal obligations, lawyers have their doubts. A joint opinion on the nationality and borders bill by four barristers, led by the human rights and immigration QC Raza Husain, found that offshore processing of asylum claims would risk breaching the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights and the refugee convention, including in the latter case relating to the prohibition of expulsion and non-discrimination, and breaching the UK's obligation to implement the refugee convention in good faith. The refugee convention puts it in Rwanda, a regime with a dubious human rights record, because of the fact that the government has not done any offshore processing. The UNHCR UN refugee agency warns against the externalisation of our obligations, according to Sailesh Mehta, a human rights barrister at Red Lion Chambers. Johnson said he is anticipating a legal challenge, and he is unlikely to be disappointed. He has a tricky task of getting the bill on nationality and borders through parliament before that, which paves the way for offshore processing.

The bill, including offshore processing, has been defeated twice by the House of Lords. The decision to press on rather than accept the amendments is reflected in the announcement regarding Rwanda, but it may also embanch the opposition in the Lords, especially in light of the legal warnings.

Stephanie Boyce, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, who represents solicitors, criticised the government with a not so subtle reference to the Partygate fines.

Boyce said that the government is announcing the scheme before the parliament has approved the necessary powers. There are serious questions as to whether these plans would or could be in line with Britain's promises under international treaty, if people were prevented from applying for asylum in the UK or if the government was in effect to pre-judge claims for asylum from a group of people.

This week, it is particularly disappointing that the government is repeating misleading suggestions that legal challenges are politically motivated. The government is abiding by its own laws when it comes to legal challenges. If the government wants to avoid losing court cases, it should act within the law of the land.