PM's remarks on illegal migration: 7 December 2023

The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a speech on illegal migration on 7 December 2023

The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP

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Today the government has introduced the toughest anti-illegal immigration law ever.

I know it will upset some people and you will hear a lot of criticism about it.

It’s right to explain why I have decided to do this.

I’m the child of immigrants… 

I understand why some people take the risk of getting into unsafe dinghies to cross open waters…

…it’s because the United Kingdom is an incredible country… it offers opportunity, hope and safety.

But the difference is… my family came here… legally.

Like most immigrants, they integrated into local communities…

…worked hard to provide for their family

…built lives and businesses, found friends and neighbours…

… and most of all… they were really proud to become British.

That feeling of pride… it cascades down the generations and grows… and that’s why you see so many children of immigrants sitting around the Cabinet table.

But it’s not a given… illegal immigration undermines not just our border controls… it undermines the very fairness that is so central to our national character.

We play by the rules. We put in our fair share. We wait our turn. 

Now if some people can just cut all that out… you’ve not just lost control of your borders… you’ve fatally undermined the very fairness upon which trust in our system is based.

That’s why this legislation is necessary. 

To deliver an effective deterrent to those who wish to come here illegally…

…to restore people’s trust that the system is fair…

… and ultimately: to stop the boats.

And so, our Bill today fundamentally addresses the Supreme Court’s concerns over the safety of Rwanda.

I did not agree with their judgement, but I respect it.

That is why I have spent the last three weeks working tirelessly to respond to their concerns…

…and to guarantee Rwanda’s safety in a new legally binding international treaty. 

The Supreme Court were clear that they were making a judgement about Rwanda at a specific moment 18 months ago…and that the problems could be remedied.  

Today we are confirming that they have been…

…and that unequivocally, Rwanda is a safe country.

And today’s Bill also ends the merry-go-round of legal challenges that have blocked our policy for too long. 

We simply cannot have a situation where our ability to control our borders…

…and stop people taking perilous journeys across the channel… 

…is held up in endless litigation in our courts. 

So this Bill gives Parliament the chance to put Rwanda’s safety beyond question in the eyes of this country’s law.

Parliament is sovereign. It should be able to make decisions that cannot be undone in the courts. 

And it was never the intention of international human rights laws…

…to stop a sovereign Parliament removing illegal migrants to a country that is considered safe in both parliamentary statute and international law.

So the Bill does include what are known as “notwithstanding” clauses.

These mean that our domestic courts will no longer be able to use any domestic or international law…

…including the Human Rights Act…

…to stop us removing illegal migrants.

Let me just go through the ways individual illegal migrants try and stay. 

Claiming asylum – that’s now blocked. 

Abuse of our Modern Slavery rules – blocked. 

The idea that Rwanda isn’t safe – blocked.

The risk of being sent on to some other country - blocked.

And spurious Human Rights claims – you’d better believe we’ve blocked those too…

…because we’re completely disapplying all the relevant sections of the Human Rights Act.

And not only have we blocked all these ways illegal migrants will try and stay…

…we’ve also blocked their ability to try and stay by bringing a Judicial Review on any of those grounds.

That means that this Bill blocks every single reason that has ever been used to prevent flights to Rwanda from taking off. 

The only, extremely narrow exception will be if you can prove with credible and compelling evidence… 

….that you specifically have a real and imminent risk of serious and irreversible harm.

We have to recognise that as a matter of law - and if we didn’t, we’d undermine the treaty we’ve just signed with Rwanda.

As the Rwandans themselves have made clear…

…if we go any further the entire scheme will collapse. 

And there’s no point having a Bill with nowhere to send people to.

But I am telling you now, we have set the bar so high…

…that it will be vanishingly rare for anyone to meet it.

And once you have been removed, you’ll be banned for life from travelling to the UK, settling here, or becoming a citizen. 

But, of course, even with this new law here at home… 

…we could still face challenges from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

So let me repeat what I said two weeks ago – 

I will not allow a foreign court to block these flights.

If the Strasbourg Court chooses to intervene against the express wishes of our sovereign Parliament…

…I will do what is necessary to get flights off. 

And today’s new law already makes clear that the decision on whether to comply with interim measures issued by the European Court…

…is a decision for British government Ministers – and British government Ministers alone.

Because it is your government – not criminal gangs, or indeed foreign courts –who decides who comes here and who stays in our country.

Now of course, our Rwanda policy is just one part of our wider strategy to stop the boats.

And that strategy is working.

I’ve been Prime Minister for just over a year now and for the first time, small boat arrivals here are down by a third….

…even as illegal crossings of the Mediterranean have soared by 80 per cent.

Let me just repeat that: small boat arrivals here are down by a third.

To help achieve that, we’ve signed returns and co-operation agreements with France, Bulgaria, Turkey, Italy, and Georgia. 

Illegal working raids are up by nearly 70 per cent. 

50 hotels are being returned to their local communities and we are housing people in a new barge and in former military sites. 

The initial asylum backlog is down from 92,000 to less than 20,000.

We’ve returned over 22,000 illegal migrants.

And as our deal with Albania shows – deterrence works.

Last year, a third of all those arriving in small boats were Albanian. 

This year we have returned 5,000 people and cut those arrivals by 90 per cent.

And Albanian arrivals have far more recourse to the courts than anyone under this new legislation.

That’s why I’m so confident that this Bill will work.

Lord Sumption, the former Supreme Court Judge, believes this Bill will work. 

We will get flights off the ground.

We will deter illegal migrants from coming here.

And we will, finally, stop the boats.

Prime Minister's Office, 10 Downing Street
The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP