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Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel said the UK government ‘will not be deterred’ after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) forced it to cancel the first flight to Rwanda. Photo: AFP

UK signals it could exit Europe’s human rights convention after Rwanda deportation ruling

  • Britain’s government has refused to rule out abandoning a European human rights pact
  • A judge blocked UK’s plan to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda, sparking fury among Conservatives

Britain could pull out of Europe’s human rights framework after last-ditch legal rulings this week blocked the government’s plans to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Downing Street said all options were on the table and did not rule out withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Home Secretary Priti Patel told members of Parliament that three of the asylum seekers set to be on the first flight to Rwanda on Tuesday night had their removal blocked by the Strasbourg-based court, which interprets the ECHR.

Asked if the government could withdraw from the ECHR, the prime minister’s spokesperson said: “We are keeping all options on the table including any further legal reforms that may be necessary.

“We will look at all of the legislation and processes in this round.”

Attorney General Suella Braverman echoed that position and said many people would be frustrated at the role played by a “foreign court”.

UK vows to pursue asylum policy after first Rwanda flight cancelled

Pressed on whether withdrawing from the ECHR was a possibility, she told the BBC’s World At One programme: “We’re not ruling anything in and we’re not ruling anything out”.


She added: “We are definitely open to assessing all options available as to what our relationship should be going forward with the European Court of Human Rights”.

A succession of Tory lawmakers pushed for Britain to withdraw from the ECHR and the jurisdiction of the Strasbourg court. Because neither the convention nor the court are European Union creations, Britain’s membership was unaffected by Brexit.

Alexander Stafford condemned the “despicable ruling from the foreign European Court of Justice” while Desmond Swayne said: “We are going to have to grasp the nettle and extend the principle of ‘taking back control’ to the convention.”

Withdrawing from the ECHR would be fraught with difficulties because it underpins human rights obligations in international treaties including the Good Friday Agreement and the Brexit deal.


Pulling out of the convention would also risk damaging Britain’s reputation on the world stage.

A Boeing 767 at MoD Boscombe Down base. The plane was blocked from taking asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda. Photo: dpa

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s own maternal grandfather, James Fawcett, helped to write the European convention and was the commission’s president for a decade in the years after World War II.


Anneke Campbell, a cousin to Johnson’s late mother, wrote in the Byline Times newspaper last week that Fawcett would have been “appalled” at the government’s actions.

Despite the focus on the ECHR, three of the asylum seekers due to be on the plane were granted injunctions by the Court of Appeal. The court confirmed on Wednesday that three judges held an urgent hearing at 9.50 pm on Tuesday - just 40 minutes before the flight was due to take off.

The ECHR has publicly confirmed details of just one of the cases heard by an out-of-hours judge. It ruled that an Iraqi asylum seeker, referred to as KN, should not be put on a flight until three weeks after the final domestic court decisions on the legality of the whole Rwanda policy.

Priti Patel: UK home secretary who wants asylum seekers sent to Rwanda

A full High Court review of the plan is expected in July, but Downing Street indicated a new flight to Rwanda could take place before the legal process is completed.


The charity Care4Calais, which was involved in the legal battles, said seven men had originally been expected on the flight on Tuesday.

“Through the day, four of those seven made individual claims to the British courts to stop them being forcibly sent,” the charity said. “Three more men had their deportations stopped by an intervention by the European Court of Human Rights.”

Patel, the home secretary, told legislators that it was “inevitable” there would be legal challenges to the government’s policy. But she added: “This government will not be deterred from doing the right thing. We will not be put off by the inevitable legal last-minute challenges”.

Migrants, picked up at sea attempting to cross the English Channel, are helped ashore on the southeast coast of England, on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

She attacked the “usual suspects” among lawyers’ firms and rights groups for defying the “will of the British people”, as well as “evil” gangs behind a flourishing cross-Channel trade in migrants.


Under the UK’s agreement with Rwanda, all migrants arriving illegally in Britain are liable to be sent to the East African nation thousands of miles away for processing and settlement.

More than 10,000 migrants have crossed the Channel from northern France since the start of the year.

On Wednesday, officials said, around 150 more people including two dozen children were brought ashore in the English port of Dover from two dinghies that appeared partially deflated.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse