Illegal Immigration

– in the House of Commons at 12:35 pm on 15 November 2023.

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Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department 12:35, 15 November 2023

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on 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 today’s judgment was made on the basis of facts from 15 months ago. The Government, of course, fully respect 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 that 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 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 Prime Minister backed our deal with Rwanda, passed legislation to deliver it and said, last December, that other countries would follow our lead. We have now seen that other countries are, indeed, also exploring third-country models to address illegal immigration, including Austria, Germany and Denmark. Italy’s deal with Albania is a new and innovative model for processing asylum claims.

Nothing in today’s Supreme Court judgment dims our commitment. The Supreme Court said there are issues with Rwanda’s asylum system that 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:

“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 the policy had to be considered in these proceedings.”

The judgment was 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 to amend our agreement to make it clear that those sent there cannot be sent to any country other than the UK. Our intention is to upgrade our agreement to a treaty as soon as possible, which 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 will 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 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—[Interruption.] Opposition Members are not listening, but 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.

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 Foreign Secretary. Across Europe, monthly illegal migrant numbers are trending upwards, with an exception: our numbers are falling. Illegal immigration is dangerous, it undermines the laws of our country, and 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. I recognise that because I have just had the chance to see it as others see it from overseas. Inevitably, people aspire to come here. But more people coming here illegally is not fair on those struggling to get GP appointments, housing or access to schools, or on those people living near to asylum hotels. The impacts are felt by some of the poorest in our society and we have a duty to address their concerns. While the Conservative Government have taken action to protect our country, the Labour party has voted time and again—more than 80 times—not to protect our borders.

Rwanda is ready and willing to help. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 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 in Rwanda; this is an African country full of potential and promise. We have a future-focused, mutually beneficial partnership with it, and we have a plan to deliver it.

The Rwanda plan has only ever been one tool in our toolbox. We have a plan to drive down numbers and our plan is working. Before the Prime Minister launched his 10-point plan last December, the number of people entering the UK illegally in small boats had more than quadrupled, but while illegal migration in the rest of Europe continues to rise, crossings to the UK are now down by a third.

We are tackling illegal immigration at every stage of the journey of a would-be illegal migrant, and our plan is 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 more CCTV, at key border crossing points along the channel. We have ensured that more French officials and officers patrol French beaches, and they are working closely with UK staff. So far in 2023, nearly 22,000 crossing attempts have been prevented because of the close co-ordination between British and French officials. That means less money that the British taxpayers have to spend on hotels, less profit for the criminal gangs and fewer people to process. It sends a clear message to the gangs and to those who want to cross that we will stop them.

As Foreign Secretary, I worked closely with my right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister to agree a new deal with Albania, with better data sharing, closer operational working and financial support. In response to the work that he and I did, the number of Albanian small boat arrivals has fallen by 90%—I repeat that figure of 90%—so far during 2023, and we have returned more than 4,600 people in just 10 months. We want to ensure that it is 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 those goods, such as dinghies and engines that are used to facilitate the crossings, in order to undermine a key component of the smugglers’ business model.

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 more than 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 and we have passed the Illegal Migration Act 2023, the most ambitious immigration legislation in decades, which makes clear that the only route to asylum in the UK is via one of the safe and legal routes 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 immigration is unwavering. We are a positive outlier in Europe. Our efforts are 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 who are working illegally.

We have done deals with multiple countries and will continue to do so. Arrivals down, decisions faster, returns up—we are getting on with the job and will do whatever it takes to deliver on our commitment to stop the boats. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department 12:46, 15 November 2023

I welcome the new Home Secretary to his post. He is the eighth Conservative Home Secretary in eight years—and what a mess he has inherited. The Supreme Court’s conclusion today is damning. It exposes the complete failure of the Prime Minister’s flagship Rwanda policy, of his judgment in making it the central part of his policy and of the Conservatives in getting the most basic grip on the boats and asylum chaos.

There is no serious plan on the dangerous boat crossings that are undermining our border security and putting lives at risk, the end of which we all want to see. There is no serious plan to sort out the chaos in the asylum system, including ending placing people in costly asylum hotels because of the soaring backlog. There was a readiness to spend more than £140 million of taxpayers’ money on this plan—money we cannot get back now that the policy has totally failed. That adds to the Prime Minister’s disastrous judgment in appointing and backing the previous Home Secretary, who was unfit for the job.

I do not agree with pretty much anything the Home Secretary’s predecessor ever said, but she was right in this message to the Prime Minister:

“If we lose in the Supreme Court…you will have wasted a year and an Act of Parliament, only to arrive back at square one…your magical thinking…has meant you have failed to prepare any sort of credible ‘Plan B’.”

Wasting time, wasting money and letting the country down: that is the Conservatives’ record.

The Supreme Court judgment outlines a catalogue of problems with the policy, but Ministers knew all about them. When it was first announced 18 months ago, I raised in the House the problems with the Israel-Rwanda deal. Ministers were warned many times about failures and weaknesses in the Rwanda asylum system, but they just pressed on. Even if the plan had been found lawful today, they have admitted it would have covered only a few hundred people anyway—at a time when 100,000 people applied for asylum in the UK last year, on the Conservative watch—and that it would have cost about twice as much per person as deciding cases in the UK.

The truth is the Government have wasted not just one but five years by failing to deal with the situation. Five years ago there were just a few hundred people crossing in boats, but they let criminal gangs take hold along the channel. They let asylum decisions collapse, so the backlog soared and there are now 20% more people in asylum hotels than there were when the Prime Minister promised to end that.

Will the Home Secretary tell us how much in total the Government have spent on the failed Rwanda plan so far? The House has a right to know. He says he wants a new treaty. How much more will that cost? Despite his optimism, the Supreme Court judgment says

“the Rwandan government indicated that the contemplated arrangements might not be straightforward to implement in practice…the provision of resources does not mean that the problems which we have described can be resolved in the short term.”

Again, we have more of the magical thinking.

What does this mean for the Prime Minister’s flagship legislation? He boasted about passing it only yesterday, but the Government have not actually commenced the central clauses of the law, because without Rwanda—and, frankly, even with Rwanda—the policy does not work and will just lead to an endless, ever-increasing permanent backlog. Will the Secretary of State confirm now that he will not be implementing the central tenets of that law this year? Will he also confirm that this means that the Prime Minister’s pledges to introduce the new law to stop the boats and end hotel use will all be broken this year?

Why will the Home Secretary not put that money into a proper plan to tackle the boats? I do not believe that he ever believed in the Rwanda plan. He distanced himself from it and his predecessor’s language on it. He may even, on occasion, have privately called it batshit. But he and I agree that we need action to stop the boat crossings that are undermining border security and putting lives at risk. We need a properly controlled and managed system for asylum and refugees.

Let us concentrate instead on the things that can work. We support the work with France along the northern coast; we want it to go further. We support the work with Albania and with other countries across Europe to tackle the gangs, but it is far, far too weak. We need a proper, comprehensive and massively scaled-up plan to go after the criminal gangs, a proper system to clear the backlog, and a proper returns unit in place so that we can end hotel use. Instead of that cost going up from £6 million to £8 million a day on his watch, let us end hotel use and save the taxpayer £2 billion. That should be common ground, so I suggest that he stops wasting taxpayers’ money on more failing schemes, that he ditches the magical thinking and the culture wars of his predecessors and that he ditches the gimmicks and finally gets a grip.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

One of the dangers of writing a critique of Government policy before reading the facts laid out in a statement is that the statement makes the critique obsolete. The right hon. Lady talks about hotel usage, which I remind the House is coming down. She talks about small boat arrivals in the UK, which I remind the House are coming down. She talks about forming closer working relationships with our European partners, which I remind the House we are already doing.

In response to the right hon. Lady’s various questions, I have written here, “Does Labour have a plan?” [Interruption.] If those on the Labour Benches could curb their enthusiasm and listen to what I was about to say next, they would hear that I was going to concede that it is clear that they do have a plan. Their plan—their great idea—is to do what the Government are already doing, which is bucking the European trend. When other countries are seeing 30%, 40%, 50%, 60%, 70% or 100% increases in their illegal arrivals, we are seeing a reduction of one third in ours, bucking the trend.

We have always said that Rwanda, and the deterrent effect of the Rwanda plan, is an important tool in our toolbox; we have never claimed that it was the only one. We have always pursued a range of options—when I say “we”, I mean my right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister, with me watching him from King Charles Street, although the collective “we” is appropriate here—and, as I set out in my statement, those activities are having an effect.

My final point is that the mask has slipped. The glee that I detect from those on the Opposition Benches for this temporary setback on the delivery of our plan displays what we on the Government Benches know to be true: they do not want migration control to work. They do not want to take control of our borders; they would rather delegate it to anybody else—[Interruption.]

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Conservative, Maidenhead

May I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new position? The Home Office is a great Department of State and I hope that he enjoys his time there as much as I enjoyed my time as Home Secretary. Will he confirm that the judgment that the Supreme Court made today was not contingent on the European convention on human rights? Indeed, the fundamental judgment was made regardless of the ECHR.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and predecessor. She was a fantastic and long-serving Home Secretary, and I intend to compete with her on both of those metrics. She makes an incredibly important point. We looked closely at the judgment and found that it draws our attention to work that we can do, working with our partners in Rwanda, to address the Supreme Court’s concerns about people being returned to unsafe countries. That is where we will address our focus, because that will be the pathway to ensuring that Rwanda remains a key element of our basket of responses to illegal migration.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

We on the SNP Benches were very glad to see the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court today. It really is quite ridiculous for the new Home Secretary to come to the House today to tell us that his predecessor’s dream will never die. It has gone. Give it up! Do something else instead! Before the extremists on his own Benches start to blame the ECHR, the Supreme Court judge, Lord Reed, was very clear that this is not just about the ECHR, but about the refugee convention, the UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the international covenant on civil and political rights as well as our own domestic legislation.

The Supreme Court made it clear that Rwanda is not a safe country. At the heart of the judgment today is the principle of non-refoulement, which means that people must not be sent back into harm’s way. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provided compelling evidence of Rwanda doing so, even after it signed the memorandum of understanding with the UK, as well as in its earlier deal with Israel. The UNHCR pointed out that it had rejected claims from countries such as Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan. It is absolutely ludicrous that those claims could be rejected. It also pointed to the lack of integrity in Rwanda’s own systems. It is a serious problem and one that the Home Secretary claims today that he wants to fix, but he should focus his intentions instead on fixing the multiple failings of his own Department.

What now for the Illegal Migration Act 2023 and for the people who will now be left in immigration limbo without any recourse to claiming asylum? This incompetent Tory Government cannot yeet them back to Rwanda and they will not process their claims, so what will happen to that group of people? The solution lies not in puncturing the market in rubber dinghies, but in creating functioning safe and legal routes. In the first half of the year, the largest group in small boats were Afghans. That is proof positive that the schemes that the Government claim exist are just not working.

Many people make these dangerous journeys because they have no other option. That remains the reality whoever the Home Secretary is, so I ask the right hon. Gentleman when he will stop wasting public money chasing fantasies. At least £1.4 million has been spent just on the legal challenges, never mind the rest of this incompetent scheme. When will he create a system that treats the most vulnerable in the world with the dignity and respect that they are due to rebuild their lives here in the UK?

The Immigration Minister has not even given Glasgow’s MPs the meeting that he promised to discuss the people that the Government are about to make homeless through their bulk processing. If the Home Secretary will not take seriously his responsibilities on immigration and on refugees, will he at least allow Scotland to have the right to do so, because we want to welcome people to our world?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

On the hon. Lady’s final point, if Scotland, or rather the Scottish Government—not the Scottish people—want to be more generous in practical terms to people seeking refuge here, they can do so. In my experience, they choose not to.

With regard to the work that we are doing, I made clear in my statement the various work strands that we are doing in close co-operation with countries around the world to address all elements of the illegal migration pipeline, including interrupting the logistics around this evil practice, and it is working. I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the fact that many other countries around Europe—countries that we have close working relationships with—are seeing a significant increase in their illegal arrivals, in stark contrast to the reductions we are seeing in the UK.

The hon. Lady talked about a number of things, but ultimately I am drawn to the remarks that the Court made about refoulement:

“The structural changes and capacity-building needed to eliminate that risk may be delivered in the future”.

That is exactly what we are seeking to address.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

I welcome my right hon. Friend and Essex neighbour to the great position of Home Secretary, and wish him well in all his endeavours on this incredibly difficult issue. He touched on the Supreme Court’s decision and its comments on refoulement. Today’s judgment was clear on that, but the issue is not new; it was raised earlier this year in the Court of Appeal. If I may say so, Ministers had the opportunity to address some of the practical measures prior to today’s judgment. I urge the Home Secretary to take every necessary step and measure to work with the Government of Rwanda on the practical, operational delivery of the migration and economic development partnership to give all those assurances. That partnership is clearly integral to ensuring that we break the business model and stop the evil trade of people smuggling. Addressing that principle will go a long way towards bringing in this essential deterrent in the illegal migration battle.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My long-standing friend and predecessor is absolutely right. We will break the people-smuggling gangs. We will undermine their business model. We will pursue all the various workstreams that my right hon. Friend will be familiar with from her time in this fantastic office. In parallel, just as she suggests, we will work—indeed, we are already working—to address the issues raised by judges in the lower courts to ensure that we can prove what they need to see, which is that we will remove the risk of refoulement.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his new role. This morning at the Home Affairs Committee, David Neal, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, told us that the biggest challenge facing the Home Office is being professional, maintaining objectivity, being fair and understanding human rights. The inspector also said that what keeps him up at night is the question of who is protecting our borders and whether they are doing so to the best of our collective abilities. Could the Home Secretary tell us whether today’s ruling on Rwanda proves or disproves Mr Neal’s concerns?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Government are responsible for the protection of this country, and it is a role and responsibility that we take incredibly seriously. It is the primary function of Governments. In this statement, and in the other statements I intend to make, and which Ministers from the Department will make from the Dispatch Box, we will show the House and the country that Conservative Members take that responsibility incredibly seriously, and we will take whatever action is necessary to ensure the protection of the people and the borders of this country. It would be helpful, frankly, if the Labour party would break the habit seemingly of a lifetime and once in a while vote to support the actions that we take.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

As well as welcoming my right hon. Friend most warmly to this post—a post in which his and my former London Assembly constituents in Bexley and Bromley are massively proud to see him—I congratulate him on the tone and manner of his statement. It is right that, as a rule-of-law-abiding country, we respect the decisions of the courts however they go. The Supreme Court was asked a legal question and it gave a legal answer. Does he agree that it is clear that the decision is essentially fact-specific, applied to well-established legal principles, and the solution is, first, to look at how those facts can be rectified to make this compliant?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My long-standing friend and former south-east London representative is absolutely right. Their lordships told us what we need to do to address their concerns. We intend to do what they said needs to be done. We will address their concerns, operationalise this plan, break the business model, and stop the boats.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Labour, Exeter

Two per cent of those claiming asylum in this country are LGBTQI+ people fleeing countries where just being themselves can be a death sentence. Does the Home Secretary agree with his predecessor that they are pretending?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to know my views on things, he can ask me for my views on things, rather than asking me to comment on other people’s views.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I welcome the new Home Secretary to his place and share his disappointment at this morning’s judgment. As we have heard, the Supreme Court focused on the principle of non-refoulement. Hopefully that can be addressed in a new treaty. Perhaps it will be made more robust if we can work jointly with other European partners who have expressed an interest in a Rwanda-type scheme. Why, however, was this not considered in the original Rwanda treaty, and which Law Officer was responsible for giving legal advice to the Home Office about how it might stand up to challenge in the courts?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend knows that Government legal advice is for informing the decision-making of Ministers. It is not appropriate to discuss Government legal advice at the Dispatch Box, and we will not do so—he knows that. We always prepare for a range of eventualities, as I said in my statement. We recognised that this was one of the decisions that might come from the Court. We listened carefully to the statements made by the judges in the lower courts, and we have already started to take action in response to the concerns that they have raised.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

I, too, welcome the new Home Secretary to the Dispatch Box. He has a difficult job, but it is in everyone’s interests that it be done well. I also welcome the part of his statement in which he said, “We are not going to put forward proposals simply to manufacture an unnecessary row for short-term political gain.” That much at least will be a refreshing change, but he should be aware that his hon. Friend Lee Anderson, the deputy chairman of the Conservative party, is reported as having told ITV that the Prime Minister should “ignore the laws” following the Supreme Court’s decision. Will the Home Secretary dissociate himself from those comments?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

This country prides itself on being a law-abiding country, so to hear the Government’s position on things, listen to the statements of Government Ministers. I have made it clear that we respect the judgment. We listened carefully to the comments made by their lordships and the lower courts. As I said, we are already responding to the comments that they made to ensure that the actions we take, when the Rwanda scheme is operationalised, are in strict accordance with international law.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

Will the Home Secretary explain to those of us who are not experts in this area why it is that people who arrive illegally on our shores from a safe nearby country cannot immediately be returned to that safe nearby country? Clearly it would be in breach of certain laws, so can he set out, perhaps in a statement, what those laws might be?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Receiving countries have to consent. That is the nub of the issue. That is why it is so important that Ministers in the Department, particularly the Immigration Minister, have spent so much time working with those countries from which we have traditionally received illegal migration, including France and others—most notably, in terms of the statistics, Albania, with which we have developed an excellent working relationship. I will claim a bit of credit here, because my right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister and I formed something of a tag team with the Government in Tirana, and we are seeing the success that comes from pragmatic but determined relationships with European partners and others. I pay tribute to the Immigration Minister for that work.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

I also warmly welcome the Home Secretary to his post, not least because I know people in the Foreign Office who were rather sad to see him go. However, let me try this question again: what does he think about the 2% of people who claim asylum on the basis of their sexuality because they face massive persecution and death threats in their own country? Does he think they are pretending to be lesbian, gay or bisexual? If he does, can he provide evidence for that?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman will know that we cannot prove a negative. That is a fallacy. I thank him for his kind words about my time as Foreign Secretary; he will know, since he clearly has a mole inside my old organisation, how passionately I pursued the rights of LGBT people around the world, including having some very difficult conversations where necessary. I absolutely want to make sure that those people are protected, but we should also recognise that bad people hide among good people and sometimes people lie to take advantage of the good will of others.

It is nonsense to suggest that everybody who claims to be suffering persecution because of their sexuality is lying, and I would certainly never say that, but we need to ensure that people are not attempting to abuse the process, as we do with any process or system, because that limits our ability to help those who genuinely are in need. I recognise that LGBT people do face genuine persecution around the world, and we want to support and help them.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay

Much of the Supreme Court’s judgment today was encouraging, with a high court endorsing yet again the principle of what we are looking to do with Rwanda. As was touched on earlier, much of the decision turned on the facts, particularly those relating to refoulement—that is, the risk that those transferred to Rwanda might be returned to a country where they would face persecution. May I test my right hon. Friend on what work he is doing, looking at the decision-making capability of the Home Office, to help Rwanda to build up its own decision-making capability, and how our judiciary might work with Rwanda’s judiciary to address some of the Supreme Court’s points in that area?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend—[Interruption.] I meant to say my hon. Friend, although he deserves to be my right hon. Friend. I know that he did a lot of the work on this very subject, and his question goes to the heart of how we operationalise the Rwanda plan. Their lordships set out exactly the point he raises about capacity building and professionalising Rwanda’s system. I have had exchanges this morning with my Rwandan opposite number, who I have met before. The Rwandans are keen to build and strengthen their institutional structures, and they see us as a key partner in achieving that. Together we will work to operationalise this plan. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he did on this very issue.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

The Supreme Court’s judgment has put paid to the lazy, ill-informed argument that it is the European convention on human rights, and only the European convention on human rights, that is blocking this Government on asylum and immigration. This Government have spent two years formulating a policy that has proven incompatible with a multitude of international treaties to which the UK is signed up and with numerous provisions of our domestic law. The Supreme Court was very clear about that. My question for the Home Secretary is this: when is he going to explain to his Back Benchers that the UK Government’s response to this judgment must be to produce a humane asylum policy that works, not to try to overcome vital checks and balances of the rule of law and human rights law that stymie bad policy decisions and protect human rights?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Our immigration policies, as laid out in the figures I ran through in my statement, are having the positive effect that we committed to. We are bringing down small boat numbers, the need for hotel places and so on. I said in my statement that their lordships have set out the route to successfully operationalising the Rwanda scheme, through addressing those concerns about refoulement. We will focus on what we need to achieve to unlock that. We recognise that this is a constant battle against criminals and, as with all constant battles against criminals, we focus on what is effective and right. Their lordships set out exactly what that is, and that is what we will focus on.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green

I genuinely welcome my right hon. Friend to his place at the Dispatch Box. Speaking softly and carrying a big stick is always a very good way of behaving—no reference intended. I fully agree with all his intentions and the direction of travel in which he wants to go to settle this issue, in terms of proper organisation such that concerns are dealt with in the courts. Does he not agree that those who greet this judgment with glee need to remember that people are dying in the channel trying to cross in the boats?

Will the Home Secretary ask our right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General to come to the Dispatch Box in due course to reflect on the judgment? It appears to me that it is much wider than the migration judgment, because we are now linking directly to applicability in UK law agreements that were made with the UN that were never bound into UK law. Whether one wants it or not, that widens the whole issue of what becomes justiciable, and I would be grateful if she would come to the House at some point and deal with that.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind words. My focus in this role is making sure that the Department is highly effective in protecting the British people and protecting our borders. This is not about trying to look tough; it is about trying to deliver for the British people, and that will be my relentless focus. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General reminds me that her advice, like that of all very good in-house lawyers, is limited to the client, which is His Majesty’s Government. However, I have no doubt I could persuade her to meet my right hon. Friend on a private basis.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

I welcome the Home Secretary to his new role. I am sure he would want to join me in expressing gratitude to all those in our public services who came here as refugees and make such a fantastic contribution to our country. At the heart of this case are a series of asylum seekers, one of whom I know has been confirmed as a victim of trafficking. He has been stuck in an asylum hotel since May 2022. As yet, the Government have not even begun to look at his claim for asylum. Can the Home Secretary tell us when his Department will begin to process the claims of those people and get on with finding out whether they are illegal asylum seekers? Or is he just going to continue with the charade that he can make Rwanda workable?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not have the details of the individual case that the hon. Lady raises, so I cannot comment on the specifics, but I remind her and the House that, as part of the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan, eliminating that historic backlog of case files was a commitment. At the start of this process, the backlog stood at 91,000 cases; it has now been reduced to—

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Fewer than 30,000. So, we are delivering on our commitment to work through that backlog of cases. It was one of the areas where we made a commitment, we are delivering on it, and we will pursue all the elements of our plan.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I urge colleagues to be brief in their questions so that the Home Secretary can be brief in return. We have a very packed agenda today and I want to make every effort to get everyone in.

Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke Conservative, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

I add my congratulations to the Home Secretary on his new role. It seems to me that the key word is “time”. We cannot keep relitigating this question to achieve what seems an ever-moving target in what the courts want us to achieve. Our constituents sent us here with a very clear message: sort the small boats issue. Parliament has passed legislation to sort the issue. Can my right hon. Friend be specific about the point at which the attempts by the Government to recondition the agreement with Rwanda into treaty form will have elapsed, and a “notwithstanding” clause, of the kind that my hon. Friend Neil O’Brien has set out, will become the only tool by which we can ensure that the will of this House takes effect? We cannot allow this cycle to continue indefinitely.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I remind the House that I did just say “be brief.”

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I listened carefully to my right hon. Friend’s comments. We are absolutely determined to maintain the deterrent effect of the Rwanda scheme. To an extent, it is already demonstrating utility by the fact that we know—anecdotally, so I will not over-interpret these figures—that the fear of it as part of our arsenal is already having a deterrent effect, which is exactly what it was designed to do. National Governments cannot just vote themselves out of international commitments. I recognise, as a former Foreign Secretary, that they are incredibly powerful tools as we try to do good around the wider world. I give my right hon. Friend the commitment that we remain relentlessly focused on ensuring that we continue to drive down the small boat crossings using the full range of capabilities at our disposal.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

The Home Secretary and the Government are right to prioritise ending illegal migration. By my count, he spoke six times in his statement about having “a plan”; the only word he left out was “cunning”, because his plans seem to be as workable, effective and chaotic as Baldrick’s in “Blackadder”. That is no laughing matter, because while the plans are not working, there is still pressure on our infrastructure, there are still criminal gangs profiting from people’s misery, and people who use legal routes are being disadvantaged. Will the Home Secretary give us the commitment that, if the European Court of Human Rights continues to be a barrier to the will of this House, the Government will take action and ignore the demands of that court?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Gentleman knows that I have a huge amount of respect for him. One point that I took from the judgment today is that it is not just about the ECHR. Their lordships set out a number of international commitments that we have made, but they also set out what we need to do to get the Rwanda plan up and running. That is on a very specific legal point, which we are already in the process of addressing.

I respectfully disagree with the right hon. Gentleman, because small boat arrivals are down, unlike almost everywhere else in Europe, where they are significantly up. The use of hotel bed spaces is down because of the arrangements that we have put in place. The speed of processing has increased, and the volume of processing of asylum claims has significantly increased. There are always multiple strands to this plan, as set out in the 10 points that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister put forward, and they are having the desired effect. We will just keep working to deliver on our commitments.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the glories of our parliamentary democracy is that Governments have to obey the law in the same way that individual citizens and corporations do? Does he also agree that those who look carefully at the judgment and think that there is a simple solution, with one lever to pull, will be disappointed?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I shall quote a very wise woman, Giorgia Meloni—who was herself quoting an even wiser woman, Margaret Thatcher—by saying: this is a constant battle. In that battle, both domestically and internationally, one of our real strengths, as I saw as Foreign Secretary on the international stage, is that when we speak and demand that other countries abide by the rule of law, we are taken seriously because of our posture on this issue. We will continue to ensure that we abide by the rule of law while simultaneously—we have proven that we can do both—delivering on the commitments that we have made to driving down illegal migration and stopping the boats.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Science, Research and Innovation)

I welcome the Home Secretary to his new position. One fifth of my constituency casework relates to his Department, and it is a catalogue of human misery. In just one example from the hundreds that I could give, the claimant’s asylum application was made in December 2020, their interview was in November 2022, and they are still waiting for a decision. The claimant has two young children and has twice attempted suicide. That all comes at huge cost to them, the NHS and the police. Will the Home Secretary get a grip, stop the “magical thinking” and just fix his Department and the asylum process?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I completely sympathise with the frustration that the hon. Lady’s constituent must feel, which is reflected in the frustration that I detect in the question. I remind her and the House that we never claimed that the Rwanda deal was the totality of our response to this issue. We made a commitment to increase the speed of decision making and to drive down the backlog, and we have demonstrably done that.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

My constituents are disappointed by the judgment, but will be heartened by the Government’s commitment to stop the boats. As the Government threaten to take over RAF Scampton, my constituents are impatient and want the boats stopped as soon as possible. I understand that the Home Secretary’s plan is to upgrade the treaty with Rwanda. How long will that take, could it be subject to legal challenges, and if so, how long could those legal challenges take?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am not able to give certainty on timelines—I wish that I was—but my hon. Friend will know that I have a constituency interest in getting this right, as RAF Wethersfield in my constituency is being used as an asylum centre. In my conversations with the Minister for Immigration, in a constituency capacity, we discussed the need to drive down the demand for accommodation, be it at Scampton, Wethersfield or anywhere else. The best way of closing down Wethersfield and not needing Scampton is to stop the boats—[Interruption.] We are relentlessly focused on doing so, as my right hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh understands, for all the reasons that I have set out.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

I welcome the Home Secretary to his position, and I welcome the court judgment this morning. I noticed in the Home Secretary’s statement a complete lack of empathy as to why people seek asylum in the first place—why people risk all, risk their lives, risk everything, to try to cross a dangerous channel to get to what they hope will be a place of safety. He is right to confirm that there is a massive global rise in the number of refugees. Should all Governments not work together to address the causes of that—poverty, wars, human rights abuses and all of those issues? Will he confirm that this country will not walk away from the important—although not perfect—advances made over the past decades by the European Court of Human Rights in improving human rights across Europe, including in this country?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Gentleman tempts me to refer back to my previous role as Foreign Secretary. I can assure him and the House that a huge part of the work that is done by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is on exactly those issues: addressing climate change so that rural farmers in the developing world have crops that they can grow, sell and eat, and reducing the risk of conflict and persecution. We are addressing those drivers, but I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that the idea that we can somehow uninvent illegal migration is naive beyond belief. We also have to address the fact that people are abused by criminals: they are used as a product to smuggle, and we have to break the business model of the people smugglers, as well as address the issues that drive people away from the countries from which they originate.

Photo of David Jones David Jones Conservative, Clwyd West

I add my voice to the general welcome to my right hon. Friend. He has told the House that his Department had anticipated the decision of the Supreme Court that was announced today. That being the case, can he tell the House whether he has made an assessment of whether legislation will be necessary to remedy the problems that have been identified? If so, when does he anticipate being in a position to introduce that legislation?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I can assure my right hon. Friend that as a thoughtful and proactive Department, the Home Office looked seriously at the range of potential outcomes from the judgment. I cannot claim credit for that work, because much of it was done before my arrival. We have already set in place the work to turn the memorandum of understanding into a treaty, thereby addressing some of the concerns of their lordships, and the Prime Minister and I have both made it clear that if there needs to be domestic legislative work to ensure that we resolve this, we are unafraid of putting legislation forward.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

I know from my recent visit to Colfe’s School that they will welcome their former pupil to his new role, as I do. I urge him to resist calls from people on his own Benches to remove us from the European convention on human rights. If we were outside that convention, a serious criminal or someone who means us harm—such as a terrorist, or someone suspected of terrorism—who seeks to hide overseas could legitimately claim that their human rights could be violated if they were extradited back to the UK. How is that taking back control of our borders?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I will take the opportunity to go back to my old school and get their congratulations directly at some point. Of course, I will let the hon. Gentleman know that I will be treading on his hallowed turf.

The hon. Gentleman invites me to be distracted, but I refuse to be distracted: I will focus on what we need to do to achieve this policy. In their judgment, their lordships set out the route to operationalising the Rwanda plan, and I will focus on what they have told us will resolve the sticking points. There was much in the judgment to be welcomed, including all the elements about the fundamental soundness of the policy. We will focus on the thing that will unlock the operationalisation of the plan.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

How long will the Rwanda treaty take to get through? How long will it take to have the court case and the judgment, and have the whole thing crawled over again by human rights lawyers? Meanwhile, my right hon. Friend is a victim of our failure to stop the boats: he has Wethersfield in his constituency, as I have RAF Scampton in mine. He is a thoroughly nice chap, and I think that he feels my pain. Therefore, once the court case over Scampton is decided in the next week or two, whatever the result, will he meet me so that we can work together to get up to £300 million-worth of levelling up at Scampton?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am always delighted to meet my right hon. Friend. He will know, of course, that I am now in a position where I have to be careful about the commitments I make, certainly about RAF Wethersfield. I do not intend to abuse my position as Home Secretary, but I am absolutely committed to driving down the need for RAF Scampton and RAF Wethersfield, just as we have driven down the need for hotel accommodation. I am absolutely committed to that, but of course I will meet my right hon. Friend.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

We need to speed up if we are to get everybody in.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party, Belfast South

I warmly welcome the Home Secretary to his new role. The UK is absolutely entitled to create bespoke policy, and he referred to his constructive work with Albania, but does he understand—unlike his predecessor—that policy must be compatible with facts and the law, and that it should focus on the chaotic processing he has inherited and on funding the public services that he says are under pressure? Can I confirm that he acknowledges that the ECHR is a fundamental cornerstone of the Good Friday agreement, and that abandoning it would not be compatible with the Government’s commitment to Northern Ireland?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Once again, the hon. Lady is asking me to comment on something in parallel to the things that I have set out. My commitment to her and the House is that we will focus on the things that will unlock this strand of our work. I cannot give her—or indeed anyone else in the House—guarantees about timescales, but we are already being effective on processing, on driving down the need for hotel accommodation and on speeding up decision making. All those things are part of the basket of activities that are helping us be a positive outlier compared with our European partners.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

There is a lot of tinkering going on here, but the real problem is parliamentary sovereignty. The rule of law, which my right hon. Friend referred to, is at the heart of this issue. If the law is clear and express, and uses a “notwithstanding” provision, as I proposed in an amendment a few years ago, it will deal with all these matters. If I may make a further point before the Attorney General jumps in, if we get the law right, we can then deal with what is effectively an international problem, while distinguishing between economic illegal migrants and proper refugees.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I would caution the House against grasping for silver-bullet solutions. Sometimes, the most effective Government policy is just focus and graft. I assure the House that the Home Office, and the Ministers and officials within it, will be relentlessly focused on the daily work that needs to be done to address this issue. Of course we will look at what changes we need to make to operationalise the Rwanda scheme, but I urge people against grasping for silver-bullet solutions, which are rarely effective.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

The Rwanda scheme is callous, inhumane and ineffective; one might say the same about the former Home Secretary. That is why I welcome the new Home Secretary to his post, on the grounds that he could not possibly be any worse. I hope that he will consider the ethical dimension of this issue, since the Court has just ruled that Rwanda is not a safe country. Even if he does not, does he not agree that the scheme is simply not workable? It is not a good use of money, and it will take a huge amount of effort to get to a place where anyone is sent to Rwanda. Are there not much better ways of pursuing this issue and destroying the small boats model?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Again, it is easy to criticise—it is easy to criticise ineffectually. Sadly, that is what I hear from Opposition Members far too often: no credible alternatives, just criticism. The point is that we are pursuing a number of workstreams that are already proving effective, which is why our numbers are going down at a time when all our European partners are seeing illegal arrivals go up. We will continue working on multiple strands and we will continue pursuing the Rwanda plan. When Labour Members finally decide to vote for something rather than against something, we will listen, but that day has not happened yet, and I do not expect it to happen any time soon.

Photo of David Simmonds David Simmonds Conservative, Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner

I warmly welcome the tone and content of my right hon. Friend’s statement. Does he agree that in addition to the commitment to the ECHR, which is very much treasured by the settled refugee communities in my constituency, this is an opportunity to reinvigorate the work with France that has done so much to bear down on the number of small boat crossings in the way he has described?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I assure my hon. Friend and the House that we are doing extensive work with France—I once again pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister—and it is working. This is the point: it is working, and therefore we will continue to pursue it.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration)

Will the Home Secretary please answer the question from my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss? When are Glasgow MPs going to get a meeting with the Home Office to discuss those successful refugees who have been granted status? More widely, what discussions is he having with local authorities across the UK on rehousing successful refugees?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My understanding is that officials from my Department meet regularly on these issues. If there are specific cases, the hon. Member should please bring them to my attention.

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Conservative, Harborough

I welcome my right hon. Friend to his place, and I welcome his comments on the unfairness of illegal immigration for those who have come here legally. However, the Supreme Court’s verdict this morning is extreme comprehensive, and it reveals not just one obstacle, but multiple obstacles to deporting people from this country. If we want to deter the small boats, we need to be able to remove significant numbers of people extremely quickly. Given the comprehensive nature of the judgment this morning, can I encourage my right hon. Friend against an incremental approach? It is clear from the ruling that we need to do something stronger now. We chose in the Illegal Migration Act not to include “notwithstanding” provisions, but I think we do need them now.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I hear the point my hon. Friend makes about a powerful deterrent—we are absolutely committed to that—but I do say again that, in circumstances as challenging as this, there are rarely silver-bullet solutions. In my whole time in government and in politics, I have never yet come across one. We have to pursue all our lines of effort, and I give him my assurance that we will continue to do so.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Trade), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Chief Whip

Would the money wasted on the Rwanda plan not have been more usefully spent on massively improving the application process to reduce illegal immigration and on establishing safe and legal routes to reduce the number of small boats?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am wondering whether the microphones are working. There has been a tenfold increase in the pace of asylum processing this last year. We are increasing it. The things are not mutually exclusive; we are doing all of them.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

It is great to have the Home Secretary in his new role, and to hear his confirmation that small boat arrivals are down not just by a fifth, but now by a third, and that he will find a treaty to resolve the remaining legal issues on the Rwanda deal. Will my right hon. Friend also encourage his officials to share the data on asylum applications that are over a year old with Members of Parliament, so that with our local councils we can prepare housing solutions in advance?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will absolutely take that idea on board. We want to do everything we can to make sure that this process is as quick and as smooth as possible.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

The European convention on human rights was developed to ensure that Governments would never again dehumanise people and abuse their rights with impunity. So can the Secretary of State tell us: does the threat of revisiting international relationships really mean that his Government are ready to unpick our international relationships and treaties, including the ECHR, so that they can demonise with impunity those fleeing persecution and conflict? We say “never again”.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Members have asked me the same question over and over again. I hate doing this, but I will refer the hon. Lady to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Photo of Jane Stevenson Jane Stevenson Conservative, Wolverhampton North East

I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new role, and I agree with him that today we saw the Opposition mask slip. They have no wish to tackle this issue, and that is not surprising when their policy is to pass the numbers decision to the Leader of the Opposition’s mothership in Brussels. My constituents are absolutely fed up. Will my right hon. Friend speak directly to them, and address their concerns by saying that nothing will be off the table to get this sorted quickly?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Opposition are devoid of ideas. They criticise, but they put nothing forward. Their best plan is to list things that we are already doing, but object to other things that we are going to add to that basket of tools. That is why I can reassure my hon. Friend and her constituents that we, unlike them, will remain focused on serving the British people and stopping the boats.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down

To go back to the European convention on human rights, because the Home Secretary has not been clear on this point, does he recognise that if the UK was to renounce the convention or tamper with it, that would undermine the Good Friday agreement, particularly around human rights and policing and justice; undermine the policing and justice co-operation aspect of the trade and co-operation agreement; and leave the UK in the company of Belarus and Russia?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am well aware of the implications of the European Court of Human Rights. I keep being invited to comment on something other than the text of my statement. I have made the Government’s position clear: we are focusing our attention on what we believe will unlock this important strand of a multi-strand approach to illegal migration.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

The Home Secretary will agree that the control of our borders is a defining issue for millions of people, so when the Prime Minister says that

“if necessary I am prepared to revisit our domestic legal frameworks”,

could we sharpen that up a bit to say that we will revisit our domestic legal framework, and will do so on multiple fronts in a timely way?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

We are focused on delivering for the British people and delivering quickly. As I say, we have always had a multi-strand approach, and we will make sure that the domestic legislative framework is fit for purpose and that we can deliver on our commitment to stopping the boats.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

When and how will the Home Secretary know that his treaties and legislative changes are giving the Court the certainty that it demands? Will he proactively go to the Court for a fresh ruling, or will he wait for third-party challenges and for the litigation merry-go-round to continue?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am not going to set out all the plans for how we will put this in place. We have already started the process for turning the MOU into a treaty. We are focused on addressing the specific issues raised by their lordships.

Photo of Nicholas Fletcher Nicholas Fletcher Conservative, Don Valley

In addition to voting against the Government 70 times on stopping the boats, the Opposition speak about natural dispersal when dealing with economic migrants. This means they often end up in Doncaster, where property is cheaper, rather than in the leafy suburbs of the liberal elites, but Doncaster is full. So will the Home Secretary do everything he can to put through the Rwanda treaty as soon as possible?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I welcome the point raised by my hon. Friend. It is often the least well-off communities who feel the burden most heavily, and it is our duty to them to address these issues. I give him that commitment—on my recent trip to just outside his constituency, I got his name wrong, for which I apologise—and I will do exactly that.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

This morning I met a British Palestinian woman called Wafia, who told me that 30 members of her family have died in the last month in Gaza. She told me about her cousins, who so far have survived but are utterly traumatised and completely terrified. Should those cousins and their children somehow make it to these shores, albeit on the only route given to them by this Government—in other words, the dangerous small boats crossings—is the Home Secretary seriously telling me that he could look them in the eye and tell them not only that they will they not be joining Wafia, but that they will be going to Rwanda, which is his eventual plan, and will never be reunited with what remains of their family?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am not going to be drawn into making comments on specific individuals without knowing the circumstances; it would be ridiculous for anyone in the House to try to do immigration processing across the Dispatch Box like that. Of course I recognise the pain and suffering that Palestinian people in Gaza are experiencing—I have seen it. We have family reconciliation schemes as part of our safe and legal routes, but I am not going to make specific comments on individual cases, and the reason will be obvious to anyone who gives it any thought.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

The people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke want to know clearly and simply whether the Home Secretary, as well as looking at our legal framework here in the United Kingdom, will be willing to disapply international treaties and conventions such as the ECHR and the refugee convention in order to take back control of our borders—yes or no?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not believe those things are necessary, but the point is that we remain focused on what we need to do. As I have said a number of times, there are no silver bullets. This requires constant work, constant vigilance and constant effort, and I give a commitment to my hon. Friend, and to the whole House, that that is exactly what we will continue to do.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

According to the Home Office’s own figures, it will cost £63,000 more to transport a vulnerable human being to Rwanda than to let them stay in the UK. So if the Government wanted to scrap this unlawful, inhumane and cruel policy, how much money would it save taxpayers?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not agree. I do not agree with those numbers because—[Interruption.] No, I do not agree with the hon. Member’s interpretation of those numbers because, ultimately, that fails to take into consideration the cost to human lives of not deterring people, of putting their lives into the hands of criminals, and of putting their lives at risk on the open seas in small, dangerous dinghies. He should be conscious that deterring this evil trade is a human good and something we should pursue. I am amazed that he looks at it purely in pounds, shillings and pence, not in the cost to human life.

Photo of Louie French Louie French Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is classic Labour double standards when Labour Members appear to support the United Nations sending people to Rwanda but do not support the British Government doing the same?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

A friend of every country except their own, I think.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (COP26), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Commons Business)

The Home Secretary is clearly under a lot of pressure from his Back Benchers on this, but may I remind him that the ECHR is entwined throughout many years of devolved Parliament legislation, and indeed Scottish case law? What assurances can he give that his Government will not attempt to weaken or change the ECHR without consent from the devolved Administrations?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

With regard to amendments, when I was Foreign Secretary I made the point that if we want to preserve institutions, they need to evolve. Nothing should be caught in aspic or frozen in amber. Ultimately, once again, the hon. Lady asks me to be distracted from our core effort, which is delivering on our multi-strand approach to tackling illegal migration, and I refuse to do so.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

I very much welcome my right hon. Friend to his new post, and the clear determination he has shown to stopping the boats. However, speed is the metric by which our constituents will judge us. Once the dust has settled on the judgment and it is clear whether we need a “notwithstanding” provision or other legislation, will he bring that to this House with the same speed that we brought through things such as the Coronavirus Act 2020, so that we can shut down the evil trade of people smuggling?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and my commitment, which is echoed by the Prime Minister, is that we will look at our domestic legislative framework and take action. We have passed one of the most ambitious pieces of legislation and we are unafraid to do so. This is core to the lives of the British people and their confidence in the security of their country, and it is core to our mission as a Government.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Scottish National Party, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

What the Home Secretary is ultimately arguing for is a system whereby rich western countries get to pack off asylum seekers and refugees to poorer countries that already bear a vastly disproportionate share of responsibility for sheltering refugees around the world. There is zero evidence that that will work, and an abundance of evidence of the harm it does to the individuals caught up in it. Is it not the case that this is not just illegal, but immoral and impracticable?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

So what would the hon. Gentleman do? Would he say that every person in the world—[Interruption.] The world is a big place, and there are lots of people in it. Is he credibly saying that anybody choosing to come here by any means, including through the hands of evil criminals, should automatically have the right to stay? It is an untenable position. We are addressing poverty and conflict in the developing world. We are addressing climate change, which is affecting farmers in the developing world. We are doing all those things, but we are also discharging our duty to the British people to protect their borders. If he does not feel that that is a function of Government, then he is wrong.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich

I first raised this issue in this place on 18 May 2020. The Rwanda scheme was stuck in the courts for 18 months. Enough is enough. Does the Home Secretary agree that one of the tools in his basket needs to be a deterrent that is robust, and that timescales matter? I have had enough, and all of my constituents have had enough. This is a matter of critical importance. Does the Home Secretary agree?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I remind my hon. Friend that we are already seeing success, and that success is accelerating because of the measures we have put in place. He is right to say that we need a deterrent for people making those dangerous crossings, and a deterrent for the illegal criminals. We are determined to deliver that, and we will do so in the face of the Opposition, who are desperately trying to prevent us from doing so.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South

I very much hope that the measures my right hon. Friend has set out will allow us to deliver the Rwanda plan as soon as possible. Will he also look—I have asked for this on a number of occasions—at other third countries that we could form partnerships with, to deliver more processing overseas in a number of those locations?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I assure my hon. Friend that in addition to the conversations with Rwanda, which are well progressed, we are having similar conversations with a number of other countries. Indeed, our policy is now being adopted in large part by a number of other European countries whose circumstances are considerably worse than ours. We are absolutely leading the field on this issue.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Conservative, Southend West

I warmly welcome my fellow Essex colleague to his place and wish him every success. I welcome his commitment to a tough but fair policy on immigration. The people of Southend are particularly concerned that if we do not resolve the issue of illegal migration, we are preventing people who have served our country from coming here legally to safety. Does he agree?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and a number of people have mentioned the humanity of this. It should be the elected Government of a country who decide who can and cannot come to that country; it should not be criminals, smugglers or people who prey on the weak. That would be the by-product of a failure to address the issue, and that is what we see from the Opposition—a complete vacuum where policy should live. That vacuum encourages illegality and criminality, and that is what we are seeking to address.

Photo of Brendan Clarke-Smith Brendan Clarke-Smith Conservative, Bassetlaw

I welcome the Home Secretary to his place and thank him for the outstanding job he did in his previous brief. Rwanda is a country that we do business with, a country with a thriving economy, and a country that the Leader of the Opposition’s football team even promotes as a tourist destination. Bearing that in mind, will the Government consider whether it may be appropriate to add Rwanda to the list of safe countries?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and one of the few things that the former Leader of the Opposition and I share is a passion for Arsenal football club. Rwanda is a country that is developing fast, and it is a close partner. They listen carefully when we talk to and work with them, and I have no doubt that working closely with them we will bring this scheme into operation, and put forward the deterrent that will be a really important strand of our multi-strand approach to illegal migration.

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Independent, Blackpool South

Although I welcome the steady progress being made to close asylum hotels, I am extremely disappointed that the Metropole in Blackpool is yet to be vacated. That hotel is located in the poorest ward in the entire country bar none, and the pressure on my local community and public services is immense. Is the Home Secretary able to assure me that in the next batch of hotel closures, socio-economic conditions will be taken into account, and that the Metropole will finally be closed?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I listened careful to my hon. Friend’s point, and he reinforces the issue that I think is key: it is very easy for people to be generous of spirit when someone else is bearing the burden. The people in his constituency and the immediate neighbourhood of the Metropole hotel are, as he said, not wealthy people, yet they are the ones disproportionately bearing the brunt of illegal migration. That is why we are committed to helping them, and other people like them across the country, by getting a grip of this evil trade and stopping the boats.