The Rwanda Bill is a sham. We have no choice but to leave the ECHR (2024)

Twenty-two weeks after supposedly “emergency legislation” was announced to deliver the Rwanda scheme, the Safety of Rwanda Bill has still not become an Act. Half-measures, delays and procrastination continue to run their course. But soon enough, we will enter a period of consequences.

As I warned when I resigned from the Cabinet, the Bill is legally and operationally flawed. It still allows illegal migrants to make drawn-out individual appeals, fails to carve out Tony Blair’s Human Rights Act sufficiently, and provides inadequate protections against activist injunctions from the Strasbourg Court. The holes in the Bill will mean that the immediate detention and swift removal of recent small boat arrivals will be vanishingly rare, if at all.

Belatedly, the Government appears to have conceded my argument that in its current formulation the policy won’t work. It has since emerged that, instead of focusing on mass enforced removals, it will offer those who have flagrantly broken our laws £3,000 to leave the UK for Rwanda. The policy intent seems to have changed from creating a robust and sustainable deterrent to delivering some symbolic flights.

Of course, this latest proposal will also fail. Why would anyone who has travelled thousands of miles to reach the UK and paid smugglers thousands of pounds accept this? It speaks to an astonishing naivety about what we face.

Meanwhile, the Government’s excuse for not going further has since crumbled. When the Government voted down my amendments, it argued that, if it accepted them, the Rwandan government would pull out. Now the Prime Minister threatens to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This, of course, would not be possible if the Rwandan position was as has been portrayed. But it isn’t and never was. Neither Suella Braverman nor I encountered this fig leaf of an excuse when we worked together in the Home Office.

When the Rwanda Bill finally passes, what happens next? Will 100 per cent of small boat arrivals be detained upon arrival? No. Illegal small boat arrivals will continue to be sent onwards to accommodation like hotels, free to abscond. Without the immediate detention upon arrival and swift removals that I proposed, a strong deterrent effect won’t be established, the boats will keep coming, and the national security emergency will worsen.

Already the progress we made last year to reduce crossings by a third has been lost. Without a functional third country removals policy, there’s every reason to believe the numbers will continue to increase. Despite being given a huge amount of money, the bureaucratic French system has struggled to spend it. And with the Olympics this summer, it is not inconceivable that French officers and gendarmerie will be dragged off the beaches of northern France to police the Games.

Illegal migration is a complex phenomenon. Every Western country has struggled to tackle it. But the Government has managed to end up in the remarkable position where it has turned an innovative solution into an unenviable problem. In the process of trying to pass such a flawed Bill, it has set back third country removal schemes which could be a genuine solution if pursued properly, and allowed open-border extremists in the Labour Party a foothold.

When the small boats continue in the summer and autumn, Parliament will rue the opportunity it gave up. The lesson it must finally learn is that, when it comes to stopping the boats and, more broadly, safeguarding our security, half-measures won’t suffice. The web of international frameworks and treaties like the ECHR that have been stretched beyond recognition by activist judges must finally be confronted.

Some cling to the comfort blanket that the ECHR can be reformed. But as I saw from my time as immigration minister, this is a delusion. It hasn’t been meaningfully reformed in its 70-year history because the interests and viewpoints of European countries diverge so severely. Much like David Cameron’s doomed attempt to extract a better deal from the EU, reform of the ECHR is also destined to fail.

So there is a binary choice between leaving and remaining in the Convention. The questions to which anyone wavering about our membership of the ECHR must ask themselves are: does it make us safer, does it make us more prosperous, and does it increase our influence? On each question the answer is no. Time and again, it prevents us from pursuing our vital national interests.

It stops us removing dangerous foreign national offenders, conducting robust surveillance on terrorist suspects, and may soon remove the rights of elected governments to decide their energy policy. It has replaced government by elected politicians – accountable to the public – with government by an unaccountable judicial-administrative elite.

The lesson from this sorry saga is that there can be no more half measures. There are some things you can’t cut in half, and our security is one of them.

The Rwanda Bill is a sham. We have no choice but to leave the ECHR (2024)
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