The Irish Times view on the Belfast High Court decision on the Rwanda Bill: the UK government must take note

Rishi Sunak says his government will appeal the ruling and the Rwanda plan will proceed, but the wider consequences of pressing ahead with this flawed plan are being ignored

The totemic nature of the British government’s Rwanda plan made it inevitable that unforeseen consequences would be brushed aside. Any watering down by Rishi Sunak’s embattled Conservative party of the Illegal Migration Act – which allows migrants and asylum seekers to be deported to Rwanda for processing and settlement – is politically unthinkable. The Conservatives face an election in which they believe that their hopes of avoiding obliteration rely heavily on playing into fears over immigration and security.

Deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom the plan required separate legislation – the Safety of Rwanda Act – to be passed at Westminster last month. The first flight is not due to leave until June, but it has already caused an unnecessary diplomatic rift with Ireland.

Comments by Tánaiste Micheál Martin last month linking the plan to the number of migrants crossing the border from Northern Ireland were seized upon by Sunak. He claimed the Act was working as intended; a deterrent to those considering entering the UK illegally.

Sunak’s response included a fatuous offer to Ireland to join the scheme. It was clear that his priority is playing to the domestic gallery and not addressing the consequences for the common travel area and the post-Brexit arrangements, which are intended to work to the mutual benefit of both countries and their citizens.

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Sunak has adopted a similar response to Monday’s ruling by the High Court in Belfast that the Illegal Migration Act be disapplied in Northern Ireland because it is counter to the post-Brexit Windsor Framework, jointly agreed by the UK and EU. The framework holds that there can be no diminution of the rights provisions contained within the 1998 Belfast Agreement, which include the European Convention on Human Rights.

It will take some time for the consequences of Monday’s decision to play out. The Democratic Unionist party – four of whose MPs supported the Safety of Rwanda Act – has raised the prospect of an influx of migrants from Britain into Northern Ireland and the necessity to avoid an immigration border in the Irish Sea.

The potential for all this to destabilise the recently restored Stormont Executive is obvious as are the wider ramifications for the UK’s relations with Ireland and the agreements governing post-Brexit relations between the UK and the EU. It could also knock-on to more migrants crossing the Border to the Republic.

Sunak says his government will appeal the ruling and the Rwanda plan will proceed. The wider consequences of pressing ahead with this flawed plan are being ignored. It is part of a pattern of the UK failing to either realise or accept the obligations still imposed on it by the Belfast Agreement despite its decision to leave the EU.

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