Leaked documents show even immigration minister thinks Rwanda policy will break law

There are fresh fears over Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda plan
There are fresh fears over Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda plan - ANDY RAIN/SHUTTERSTOCK
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Fresh fears have been raised over Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda plan as it emerged that the new immigration minister previously raised concerns that it could breach international law.

Documents seen by The Telegraph show that Michael Tomlinson, when solicitor general, advised the Government that plans to ignore injunctions by Strasbourg judges blocking deportation flights would put the UK in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

One of the so-called rule 39 orders issued by an anonymous judge from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) blocked the first deportation flight to Rwanda in June 2022.

The document, advising on the plans to ignore the orders, stated: “The Attorney General and Solicitor General agreed that interim measures indicated by the European Court of Human Rights under rule 39 of the rules of court are binding as a matter of international law and there is no respectable argument to the contrary.”

As the illegal immigration minister, Mr Tomlinson has now been tasked by Rishi Sunak with ignoring interim injunctions from European judges under the new Safety of Rwanda Bill.

Michael Tomlinson raised concerns when he was solicitor general
Michael Tomlinson raised concerns when he was solicitor general - JEFF GILBERT

The Bill is due to return to the House of Lords on Monday for its line-by-line scrutiny in its committee stage, when peers critical of the plans will table multiple amendments seeking to water down the legislation and strip out measures they believe breach international law.

The Prime Minister has maintained that he will not allow a foreign court to block Rwanda flights and is prepared to ignore injunctions. However, Tory critics are sceptical and warn that he will have to defy his own law officers’ advice in order to do so. They pushed for a more radical approach declaring the injunctions not binding and requiring ministers to ignore them.

A senior Tory MP said: “This is the problem we have with this policy. It’s just an attempt to kick all the problems down the road until they come back and hit us twice as hard. It’s delusional to think you don’t have to block off all Strasbourg pyjama injunctions and can still get enough people to Rwanda.”

Two police officers near to where a Boeing 767 sits on the runway at the military base in Amesbury, Salisbury preparing to take asylum seekers to Rwanda in June, 2022
Two police officers near to where a Boeing 767 sits on the runway at the military base in Amesbury, Salisbury preparing to take asylum seekers to Rwanda in June, 2022 - JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP

However, a source close to James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, said: “This advice is a year old. It does not, and could not have factored in the verdict of the Supreme Court, the new Treaty with Rwanda, and the Bill currently progressing through Parliament, one we believe is compliant with our obligations to international law.”

Another Government source said: “This is a red herring and the new minister will judge each case as it comes. He’s getting on with the job of government rather than galavanting around the globe to make political points. It’s unhelpful to the Conservative Party and these points were never made by certain people when they were actually in office.”

The Rwanda plan is also criticised today by a joint Commons and Lords committee as being “fundamentally incompatible” with the UK’s human rights obligations.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights said Rwanda Bill would erode protection for human rights provided by the Human Rights Act, contravene rights guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights and fall short of the UK’s commitments under international treaties.

It came as a total of 124 migrants on board three small boats reached the UK on Saturday across the Channel. The latest arrivals bring the total for the year to 1,506 which is down from the 2,072 by the same point in 2023 but up from 1,339 in 2022.

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