UK not ruling out quitting European rights convention after Rwanda flight grounded

Attorney general says people in Britain would be ‘rightly frustrated’ that a Strasbourg court had intervened after British courts gave the go-ahead to the flights to Rwanda

The British government has refused to rule out quitting the European Convention on Human Rights after judges in Strasbourg halted a flight due to take asylum seekers to Rwanda. The European Court of Human Rights granted an injunction requiring that one of the asylum seekers should be taken off the flight, the first of its kind as part of a new scheme to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing and settlement.

Home secretary Priti Patel promised to press ahead with the plan and to put some of those who were taken off the grounded flight on to the next chartered aircraft to Rwanda. Downing Street said it would do “whatever it takes” to ensure the flights go ahead, and a spokesman would not rule out withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights.

“We are keeping all options on the table, including any further legal reforms that may be necessary. We will look at all of the legislation and processes in this round,” he said.

Under the government’s plan asylum seekers arriving in Britain will be flown to Rwanda and their applications will be processed there. Those who are granted asylum will be allowed to settle in Rwanda, but will not be permitted to return to Britain.

Attorney general Suella Braverman said people in Britain would be “rightly frustrated” that the Strasbourg court had intervened after British courts gave the go-ahead to the flights to Rwanda.

“Many people will have assumed that we took control back of our borders when we left the European Union and we designed our own migration rules, and now what people are seeing and will be rightly frustrated and confused by is that a foreign court has seemingly cut across rulings of our domestic courts, parliamentary statute and a UK policy designed to address domestic objectives. I think that’s obviously an unsatisfactory situation,” she told the BBC.

“The government has been clear in the immediate aftermath of the ruling issued by the European Court of Human Rights that all options are on the table. So we are not ruling anything in and we are not ruling anything out, and we are going to consider everything as exhaustively as possible to achieve our goal. That goal being to stop the illicit and criminal practice of people-smuggling going on across the channel.”

Answering questions from MPs, Ms Patel also declined to rule out withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Britain was the first signatory in 1951. Like the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, the convention is not related to the European Union and Britain’s relationship to it is not affected by Brexit.

Alliance MP Stephen Farry reminded Ms Patel that the convention is written into the Belfast Agreement as well as into Britain’s other devolution settlements.

“Over the past week, in relation to the protocol, government ministers have stressed their new-found undying commitment to all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. The convention is hard-wired into that agreement,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times