Britain on Thursday said a new treaty to send migrants to Rwanda could be ready for ratification within "days" after a court blocked an earlier and controversial agreement as unlawful.
The new treaty, which would then take at least three weeks to be approved by UK lawmakers, follows a Supreme Court ruling Wednesday that the current deal between the two countries should not go ahead.
It was a major setback for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who is under pressure to reduce irregular immigration to Britain.
Sunak immediately vowed to persevere with the controversial plan by securing a new treaty with Kigali. It will also need to be ratified by the Rwandan parliament.
Five judges at the UK's highest court had unanimously sided with an earlier Court of Appeal decision that the policy to deport asylum seekers and refugees to the African nation was incompatible with Britain's international obligations.
The panel agreed it was not a safe third country and there were "substantial grounds" to believe it could forcibly return migrants to places where they could face persecution.
Alongside the treaty, Sunak has announced plans to introduce "emergency legislation" to parliament to designate Rwanda a safe country to end the "merry-go-round" of legal challenges.
"We will bring forward legislation to make clear Rwanda is safe," his spokesman told reporters Thursday, saying it would build on work done with Kigali over the last 15 months.
The new treaty -- to be unveiled in the "coming days" -- would reflect "the upgraded assurances we have secured to address the court's concerns," he added.
'Stop the boats'
"The treaty would be clear that they would not be sent on to another country, regardless of the outcome of the asylum process," Sunak's spokesman noted, with the "vast majority" of migrants set to remain in Rwanda.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised to stop small boat crossings of the Channel from northern France. By Leon Neal (POOL/AFP)
"There will be an exceptionally high bar for people coming back to the UK," he added.
The Migration and Economic Development Partnership agreed in April last year envisages sending to Rwanda anyone who has made what London calls "dangerous or illegal journeys" to Britain on boats and hidden in lorries.
The first deportees were aboard a plane to fly to the African country in June 2022 when a last-minute European Court of Human Rights injunction prevented any deportations, prompting the further legal challenges.
The government insists the scheme is crucial to deter "illegal" immigration across the Channel from France on inflatable vessels -- an emotive issue set to feature prominently in the next general election.
More than 27,000 have made the perilous journey this year -- down on the nearly 46,000 who crossed in 2022, but still far short of meeting Sunak's vow to "stop the boats".
The Supreme Court decision has exposed rifts in the ruling Conservative party over the issue, and is set to prompt a renewed push from right-wingers for withdrawal from the ECHR.
Sunak said Wednesday that if the court "chooses to intervene against the express wishes of parliament, I am prepared to do what is necessary to get the flights off".
But in interviews Thursday, interior minister James Cleverly noted that Britain's "preferred option" was to remain in the ECHR.
"We don't think we're going to need to (leave)," he told Sky News.