The Irish Times view on Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda Bill: the detail will concern Dublin

The move threatens a renewed undermining of an essential pillar of the human rights dimension of the Belfast Agreement

Rishi Sunak last week got his Rwanda Bill through the Commons, allowing for the deportation of migrants to that country and curtailing their legal rights of appeal. Just 11 of his troublesome backbenchers opposed it, though more than 60 put down amendments, comfortably defeated with Labour’s support.

At what price?

To paper over Tory divisions, the UK prime minister reassured the right that he would not allow a “foreign” court’s rulings – specifically the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights – to dictate policy to British ministers. And he issued a memo to civil servants requiring that if a minister ordered them to breach an ECHR ruling they were to do so. They were told to ignore its Rule 39 injunctions, one of which had been used by the Strasbourg court to block the first deportation flight to Rwanda in June 2022.

The willingness of the UK to disregard its international obligations is not new, as we found out during Brexit, but there had been some hope of a new approach. Not so, it appears. Dublin has every reason now to be concerned at a renewed undermining of an essential pillar of the human rights dimension of the Belfast Agreement in the UK through repudiation of the authority, albeit not yet membership, of the ECHR.


The US and EU, also guarantors of the Belfast Agreement, will share Irish concerns.

The ECHR is Europe’s key human rights standard-setting institution, in whose formation the UK played a pivotal role – Churchill was an early advocate. It is not a “foreign” court but an international one, whose judges are elected by all the member states. The UK was among the first to ratify the convention on which it is based, and its jurisprudence is now embedded deep in and enforced by British courts. To defy its rulings is to defy not “foreign” law but British law.

So far the Irish Government has been silent publicly on this latest breach of trust by the UK, unwilling to enter a political quagmire.

But the private message will be clear – there will be consequences.