Update on government's plan for illegal immigration

The Home Secretary, James Cleverly, on next steps for the Rwanda partnership following the Supreme Court judgment

The Rt Hon James Cleverly MP

With permission, I would like to make a statement about the government’s plan for ending illegal immigration.  

The Supreme Court has today upheld the judgment of the Court of Appeal, meaning that we cannot yet lawfully remove people to Rwanda.  

The important thing to note is that the judgment of the Court today was made on the basis of facts from 15 months ago.

The government of course fully respects the Supreme Court, but its judgment does not weaken our resolve to deter people from making these illegal, dangerous, and unnecessary journeys. 

This is a lengthy judgment, which we now need to digest and reflect upon.  

We take our obligations to the courts very seriously, which is why we have already taken action to address a number of the points raised by the lower courts.  

It is only through breaking the business model of illegal people traffickers that we can fully take control of our borders and save lives at sea.  

This is why the PM backed our deal with Rwanda, passed legislation to deliver it and said last December that other countries would follow our lead.  

And what we have now seen, is other countries are indeed now also exploring third country models for illegal immigration - including Austria, Germany, Denmark and Italy in their deal with Albania, a new and innovative model for processing asylum claims. Nothing in the Supreme Court judgment today dims our commitment.  

The Supreme Court has said that there are issues with Rwanda’s asylum system which could create the possibility of someone being returned to a country where they could face persecution.  

I am struck by the Court’s remarks about the risk of refoulement.  

And I quote: “The structural changes and capacity-building needed to eliminate that risk may be delivered in the future, but they were not shown to be in place at the time when the lawfulness of this policy had to be considered in these proceedings”, making reference to the earlier proceedings.  

We have a plan to provide exactly that certainty. We anticipated this judgment as a possible result, and for the last few months have been working on a plan to provide the certainty that the Court demands. We have been working with Rwanda to build capacity and amend agreements with Rwanda to make clear that those sent there cannot be sent to another country than the UK. Our intention is to upgrade our agreement to a treaty as soon as possible.  

That will make it absolutely clear to our courts and to Strasbourg that the risks laid out by the Court today have been responded to, will be consistent with international law, and ensure that Parliament is able to scrutinise it.  

The Prime Minister has said that if our domestic legal framework frustrates our plans he is prepared to change our laws.  

But I will inform the House we are not going to put forward proposals simply to manufacture an unnecessary row for political gain.  

We have a plan to deliver the Rwanda deal. They’re not listening Mr Speaker so they might want to listen to this.  

We have a plan to deliver the Rwanda deal and we will do whatever it takes to stop the boats.    

Mr Speaker, illegal immigration is a huge global challenge, and that challenge is growing.  

It was a topic that I regularly raised with countries across Europe and around the wider world in my former role as a Foreign Secretary.  

But Mr Speaker, monthly illegal migrant numbers are trending upwards right across Europe, with an exception – our numbers are falling.  

Illegal migration is dangerous, it undermines the laws of our country, it is unfair on those who come here legally and on the British people who play by the rules.  

It must and it will stop.  

This a wonderful country. And I recognise that because I had a chance to see it as others see it from overseas, and inevitably people aspire to come here. 

But more people coming here illegally is not fair for those struggling to get GP appointments, those trying to get housing, or access to schools - or those people who are living near asylum hotels. The impacts are felt on some of the poorest in our society and we have a duty to address their concerns.  

While the Conservative government has taken action to protect our country, the Labour Party has voted time and time again not to protect our borders, over 80 times.  

Rwanda is ready and willing to help. The UNHCR operates its own refugee scheme in Rwanda.  

Rwanda is ready to receive thousands of people, process their claims, give them excellent care, and then support them to integrate into Rwanda.  

This is an African country full of potential and promise. We have a future-focused mutually beneficial partnership with them, and we plan to deliver. 

The Rwanda plan has only ever been one tool in the toolbox. We have a plan to drive down numbers and our plan is working.  

Before the Prime Minister launched a 10-point plan in December, the number of people entering the UK illegally in small boats had more than quadrupled.  

While illegal migration in the rest of Europe continues to rise, crossings to the UK are now down by a third.  

Mr Speaker, we are tackling illegal migration at every stage in the journey of a would-be illegal migrant. Our plan is already working.  

Last year the Prime Minister signed the largest ever small boats deal with France. We have expanded our joint intelligence cell to deepen intelligence-sharing and dismantle the criminal gangs.  

Cutting-edge surveillance technology is in play and we have beefed up security infrastructure, such as CCTV at key border crossing points across the Channel. 

We are deploying more French officials and officers to patrol French beaches and they are working closely with UK staff.  

And so far in 2023, nearly 22,000 crossing attempts have been prevented because of the close coordination between British and French officials.  

That means less money that the British taxpayers have to spend on hotel, less profit for criminal gangs, and fewer people to process.  

And it sends a clear message to the gangs and those who want to cross that we will stop them.  

As Foreign Secretary, I worked closely with my Rt Hon friend the Immigration Minister to agree a new deal with Albania, with better data sharing, closer operational working, and financial support. And in response to the work he and I did, the number of Albanian small boat arrivals has fallen by 90 per cent so far during 2023 and we have returned 4,600 people in just ten months.  

We also want to make sure it’s harder to get into one of those boats in the first place, including by reducing the supply of boats.   

We are targeting the movement of these goods – such as rubber dinghies, engines - that are used to facilitate crossings, to undermine a key component of the smuggler’s business model.  

And those who do make it through will not be able to stay.  

We have expedited returns arrangements with countries including France, Albania, Turkey, and Italy.  

We have increased the number of illegal working raids by almost 70%. We have cut the asylum legacy backlog by over 59,000 cases.  

We have freed up hundreds of hotel beds with the use of alternative sites. We have announced the closure of the first 50 asylum hotels.  

We have passed the Illegal Migration Act, the most ambitious immigration legislation in decades which makes clear that the only route to asylum in the UK is via a safe and legal route we have put in place.  

Anyone who comes to the UK illegally will not be able to stay.  

They will be removed either to their home country if it is safe, or to a safe third country if it is not.  

Mr Speaker, I can assure you that our commitment to ending illegal migration is unwavering.  

We are a positive outlier in Europe.  

Our efforts our working. Small boat crossings are down.  

Our decision making is faster, we are removing those with no right to be here, and taking action against those working illegally.  

We have done deals with multiple countries and will continue to do so. 

In conclusion, arrivals down, decisions faster, returns up – we are getting on with the job and we will do whatever it takes to stop the boats, and I commend this statement to the House.

Home Office
The Rt Hon James Cleverly MP