The UK Supreme Court rejected a contentious government plan to transfer migrants to Rwanda on Wednesday, upholding a lower court judgment that it was illegal, in a major blow for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
A five-judge bench of the UK’s highest court agreed with Court of Appeal justices that the strategy was incompatible with Britain’s international treaty responsibilities.
“We conclude that the Court of Appeal… was entitled to find that there are substantial grounds for believing that the removal of the claimants to Rwanda would expose them to a real risk of ill-treatment,” they concluded.
The judges agreed with the lower court’s decision in June that Rwanda risked forcibly returning asylum seekers and refugees to a nation where they would face persecution, a practice known as refoulement.
“Having been taken through the evidence we agree with their conclusion,” they added in their 56-page ruling.
Sunak’s Conservatives have claimed that the Rwanda program is critical to reducing “illegal” immigration across the Channel on small boats, a topic that is expected to dominate the next general election.
However, the verdict ends a process that began in April last year when Britain inked an agreement with Rwanda to transport undocumented migrants to interim detention centers in Rwanda, and also shatters the UK leader’s immigration agenda.
It is also expected to worsen schisms inside the ruling Conservative Party between right-wing legislators and moderates.
Sunak stated that the verdict was “not the outcome we desired” and that the government “will now consider next steps,” while Kigali ministers “take issue” with the ruling that Rwanda was not a safe third country.