Playing By The Rules- Why the Rwanda Bill Could Damage Peace and Trade

The Safety of Rwanda Bill is the Tory Government's latest attempt to claim it is able to manage our asylum system.
It risks damaging the Good Friday Agreement and our trading relationships with Europe because it seeks to rip up the rules of international cooperation on which these treaties are based - this briefing explains the background to this and what you can do to help the Labour Movement for Europe stand up the UKs reputation as a trusted partner for peace and trade.

Labour Movement for Europe Briefing 

What does the Rwanda Bill do?

The Safety of Rwanda Bill would require our courts to accept that Rwanda is safe and not to consider any review or appeal brought by a refugee about being deported there on the grounds that it is not – even if there is compelling evidence in support.  This could expose individuals to the risk of experiencing inhuman and degrading treatment because it removes the protections they have to stop this which exist in the courts. As such this legislation is inconsistent with the UK's membership of the European Convention on Human Rights.  

The Government has only been able to contemplate this kind of legislation because the UK left the European Union and the obligations of the Dublin Agreement. This set Europe-wide criteria for examining asylum applications. The Government drafted this legislation in response to the UK Supreme Court which determined that the Government could not send refugees to Rwanda because they could be at risk of being sent onto countries where they could face harm. The Supreme Court also highlighted that it considered Rwanda is not only unsafe, but also has a poor human rights record and constraints on freedom of expression.

As part of the European Convention on Human Rights, all citizens of countries who sign up for it are entitled to seek protection for their rights by being able to appeal to a court to protect them. The Rwanda bill expressly prevents this for refugees who are denied the opportunity to ask a court to determine the question of their safety in any meaningful sense except for very constrained and narrow circumstances. This breaches Article 13 of the ECHR by denying individuals ‘an effective remedy’ to go to court if their rights are violated, even if by the Government themselves.


How does this impact on international agreements?

Our agreement to abide by the terms of the ECHR - including ensuring all citizens can go to go to court to exercise their rights - sits at the heart of many international treaties.

For example, The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) sets out explicitly that there must be no ‘diminution of rights’ accorded by the ECHR to any citizen in Northern Ireland. This means that nothing the UK Government does can undermine the terms of the ECHR without affecting the implementation of the GFA. The commitment to these rights is also an essential part of the Northern Ireland protocol which was part of the Brexit agreement.  This means that anyone in Northern Ireland must have the same rights as someone in the European Union even though the UK itself has left the EU. 

This principle is established in UK law through Section 7A of the Withdrawal Agreement. This part of this treaty sets out explicitly that not only should citizens have these rights, but also access to the court to challenge any policy which might deny them. By removing the right of individuals in the UK, including in Northern Ireland, to go to court to challenge the Government’s behaviour, the Rwanda Bill undermines the UK's commitment to the ECHR. It therefore undermines the basis of this part of the Good Friday Agreement.

The Government acknowledged this in parliament when the Bill was debated in parliament on the 12th December 2023 – The Home Secretary James Cleverley said in response to an MP from Northern Ireland that they were working on addressing this concern:

‘The point that the hon. Gentleman makes about differential treatment in different parts of the United Kingdom is one that we are conscious of…When passed, the Bill will address the practical implications.’

Later on the Government claimed ‘This Bill will apply in full in Northern Ireland, in the same way that it applies in the rest of the United Kingdom…Nothing in the Windsor framework or the trade and co-operation agreement affects that.’

However, it will not provide the legal advice which underpins this claim that our commitment to ensuring people in Northern Ireland can access these rights is not affected. 

Breaching Article 13 of the ECHR by removing the right of citizens to go to court also has implications for our Trade and Cooperation Agreement with Europe. Whilst the TCA doesn’t have a direct obligation to comply with the terms of membership of the ECHR in it, it does set out possible sanctions that the EU can use if the UK ceases to comply with the ECHR. For example, if the UK denounced the ECHR as a whole – something Conservative MPs are calling for - the EU could respond by terminating the whole of criminal law cooperation on a fast-track basis. That would mean in practice that European countries would stop working with the UK to identify criminals who may risk our security in the UK. 

If the EU felt that the UKs conduct towards the conditions within the ECHR was even more serious, it could also seek a fast track termination of the TCA itself. This can happen if the EU judges there has been a violation of an essential element of the ECHR which is considered to include some sort of serious undermining of human rights.

You can find some short clips from our recent seminar on these issues for our members with legal experts Adrian Berry and Sonali Naik KC (Garden Court Chambers)  and Steve Peers (Professor of Law at Royal Holloway University) talking about these challenges below:




What is the Labour Movement for Europe Doing?

In response to these concerns, the LME has tabled an amendment to this Bill. It asks the Government to set out how they believe provisions of this legislation which undermine our commitment to the ECHR are compatible with the conditions of Section 7A of the Withdrawal Act, and gives parliament a vote on whether they agree.

You can find the text here below to Amendment 9 to this legislation: 

Page 5, Line 23, at end insert-

“(5) The Government must, within three months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, lay in the Library of Each House a copy of a report setting out how this clause is compatible with Section 7A of the European Withdrawal Act and the UKs obligations to citizens under the Good Friday Agreement

(5A) Within three sitting days of a report being laid under subsection (5) the Government must move in each House an amendable motion that that House has considered and approved the report which has been laid

(5B) Subsections (2) and (3) do not come into force until such as time as both Houses have passed motions under subsection (5A) approving reports laid under subsection (5)”

Parliament will consider this amendment in the coming weeks as part of its discussions about the Rwanda Bill. Please raise this with your MP and ask them to support this amendment and so stand up for the role of the ECHR.