On Wednesday, the government may face a significant turning point as the supreme court makes a decision on the legality of its plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.
There are potential consequences beyond immigration and asylum policies that could arise from the outcome of this decision, including its impact on the future direction of Rishi Sunak’s government and the Conservative party as a whole. Here is what may result from a victory or defeat for the government.
The government has emerged victorious in the legal battle.
Although the final decision of the case will not be revealed until Wednesday at 10am, it is believed that the process has been swift, leading to speculation that the government’s arguments will be rejected and the appeal court’s ruling from June will be upheld. Interestingly, some individuals within No 10 view a potential loss as not only probable but also somewhat desirable.
If the top court approves the deportation plan, Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman will be responsible for implementing a policy that has been criticized as being more symbolic than effective in its goal to greatly decrease the number of people entering the UK on small boats without authorization.
Around 46,000 individuals took the Channel journey in the previous year, and although the numbers have decreased in 2023, they are still significantly higher than the limit for flights to Rwanda under the theoretically unlimited program. The goal is to discourage the trip by removing a sufficient number of people, but even this approach has raised doubts.
Sunak and Suella Braverman, his current home secretary, face another potential challenge with this policy. While it may be appealing to certain voters in theory, the sight of tearful deportees and potential reports of mistreatment in Rwanda could harm its popularity. Additionally, there is a risk of individuals attempting to make the journey to the UK again.
The government would face significant political consequences if one of its major policies were to clearly fail. This could potentially lead conservative voters to support more extreme migration strategies proposed by Reform UK, while members of the Conservative party on the opposite side may be enticed by the Liberal Democrats.
All this is not necessarily to say that ministers want to lose; the consequences of the policy being struck down could be even more destabilising for the Tories than a victory.
The case was lost by the government.
The immediate political chronology of the supreme court ruling the Rwanda policy illegal is not hard to predict. Sunak, and particularly Braverman, would lament the demise of a plan they could still argue would have done the trick, without having to prove it in real life.
It is possible that we may see a wave of criticism from conservative media and commentators regarding judges who intervene in political matters. They may even go as far as labeling Lords Reed, Hodge, Lloyd-Jones, Briggs, and Sales as enemies of the people or supporters of human traffickers.
Following that, the situation would become more complicated. As one of the five declared promises, preventing small boat crossings would require Sunak to find alternative solutions, including improved collaboration with France and the broader EU – an area that may not be familiar to Braverman and her immigration counterpart, Robert Jenrick.
The government has recently achieved success in significantly reducing the number of Albanian citizens crossing the Channel, which aligns with their efforts to promptly send individuals back to a country deemed safe by the Home Office.
The government officials have proposed to include India and Georgia as safe countries and are also considering Turkey and Egypt. However, there is no confirmation that Jenrick suggested Iraq. Another suggestion is to turn the deportation agreement with Rwanda into a formal treaty for better legal safeguarding.
Some members of the Conservative party’s right wing may view these actions as mere adjustments and may push for Sunak to contemplate leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The Mail on Sunday reported that Braverman’s focus for the next election would be a “Quit the ECHR” campaign, similar to the 2019 slogan “Get Brexit done.” There are also rumors that she may leave her government position in order to promote this objective.
Sunak would face significant risks if he were to make this decision, disregarding the consequences of a home secretary’s resignation. Refusing to support Braverman’s proposal, as reported, would result in backlash from the party’s conservative faction. However, agreeing to it could potentially divide the party, as members of the moderate one nation caucus strongly oppose it.
Unfortunately, due to the circumstances of a prime minister who was not elected and came into power after 12 years of Conservative rule, the most ideal option is one that is not possible: to not begin from this point.