Rwanda asylum plan: Timeline of government’s policy to deport migrants

How the events leading up to the Rwanda plan’s return to court and Suella Braverman’s conservatism speech unfolded

Lucy Skoulding
Wednesday 15 November 2023 10:26 GMT
Suella Braverman lands in Rwanda for first visit after asylum deal

The Rwanda deal to deport asylum seekers has been ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court, in a major blow to Rishi Sunak’s flagship plan to cut immigration.

Flights will remain suspended after judges at the UK’s highest court concluded it is not a safe country to receive those claiming refuge.

It comes after the Court of Appeal ruled in June that sending anyone to Rwanda would be in breach of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) as there was a “real risk” they could be returned to their home countries to face “persecution or other inhumane treatment”.

The government has spent at least £1.3million on the legal battle and has admitted the figure will rise further. This sum is separate from the £140m so far paid to Paul Kagame’s government to process UK asylum cases.

This is how events leading up to this point unfolded, starting with the announcement of the scheme in April 2022.


April 14: Following a drastic increase in the number of people crossing the Channel, then-prime minister Boris Johnson announces a plan to deport migrants arriving in small boats to Rwanda for their claims to be processed. He says this would act as a “very considerable deterrent”.

June 15: The first deportation flight to Rwanda is cancelled just minutes before take-off following a ruling by a judge at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

August 23: The Ministry of Defence says 1,295 migrants made the crossing in 27 boats, another new record which remains the highest figure for a single day.

August 25: Former home secretary Priti Patel announces an agreement with the Albanian government to send migrants back in a bid to curb the numbers arriving from that country amid concerns they account for 60 per cent of all UK arrivals.

November 14: New Home Secretary Suella Braverman signs an agreement with French interior minister Gerald Darmian allowing British officers to join French beach patrols.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman tours a new construction training academy in Kigali (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

November 23: Ms Braverman admits the government has “failed to control our borders”, but tells MPs they are determined to “fix” the problem, following criticism of overcrowding at the Manston processing centre in Kent.

December 14: Four people die and 39 others are rescued after their dinghy capsizes in the Channel.

December 19: The High Court rules the government’s Rwanda policy is lawful, but orders the cases of the first eight deportees to be reconsidered.

December 31: Some 45,755 migrants made the Channel crossing over the course of the year, according to government figures.


January 4: Prime minister Rishi Sunak announces legislation to tackle the migrant crisis is one of five key priorities for his premiership.

March 7: Ms Braverman tells MPs the Illegal Migration Bill will impose a legal duty to remove those arriving in the country illegally, barring them from claiming asylum in the UK.

March 10: Tensions mount as Mr Sunak defends the policy as “the right approach” against criticism from sports pundit Gary Lineker. Lineker’s intervention led to a high-profile impartiality row that saw him suspended from Match Of The Day. A number of his colleagues, including Alan Shearer and Ian Wright boycotted the show and others in solidarity with the presenter and he was later reinstated.

March 12: Chancellor Jeremy Hunt does not rule out the prospect of children being detained under the new plans, which would see those crossing the Channel eligible for asylum only in a “safe” third country such as Rwanda.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman says she wants to begin deportations to Rwanda by the summer

March 13: The plan draws criticism from former Tory prime minister Theresa May, who says it is “not enough” to send people to claim asylum in Rwanda and warns the UK is “shutting the door” on victims of modern slavery.

March 14: A High Court judge rules that asylum seekers facing removal to Rwanda can appeal against Home Office decisions over alleged errors in the consideration of whether relocation poses a risk to their human rights, dealing another blow to the plan.

March 17: Ms Braverman doubles down on the deportation policy on a visit to Rwanda despite the plan remaining embroiled in legal battles, claiming the £140 million deal will be a “powerful deterrent” to those attempting to cross the Channel.

March 18: Ms Braverman is given a tour of potential migrant housing after the land was purchased by the Rwandan government, ahead of meeting with President Paul Kagame and her counterpart Vincent Biruta to discuss the deal.

April 14: New figures show the Rwanda deal is failing to deter asylum seekers from crossing the English Channel a year after it was signed. As of early April, almost 5,000 people had made the journey since the start of 2023, which is almost exactly the same figure seen by the same point in 2022.

Demonstrators previously protested outside the Royal Courts of Justice against the Government’s plan to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda (Tom Pilgrim/PA)

April 15: Small boat migrants previously threatened with deportation to Rwanda have been accepted into the UK’s asylum system after months of living in limbo. They were among thousands of asylum seekers sent “notices of intent” because they passed through countries, such as France, where the UK claims they could have remained before crossing the English Channel Their notices were subsequently withdrawn.

April 24: The next stage of the legal battle over the Rwanda deal began, with the Court of Appeal to reconsider if it is safe to send asylum seekers to the country. Suella Braverman widened the scope of the agreement since it was ruled lawful by the High Court in December 2022, meaning that it can also be applied to modern slavery victims and other small boat migrants.

April 24: Raza Husain KC told the Court of Appeal that Rwanda is not a safe country to receive asylum seekers from the UK and the High Court was wrong to declare the scheme lawful. The appellants argue that the Home Office breached several legal duties in deciding that Rwanda was a safe country to receive refugees, and failed to properly investigate the outcome of a similar deal with Israel which operated from 2013 to 2018.

May 7: The former head of the British army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, attacks the government’s plan to send migrants who arrived on small boats to Rwanda – saying the country is still living under the “shadow of genocide”.

May 15: Ms Braverman sets out her plan for conservatism at a right-wing conference in central London. She spoke of her own parents’ arrival in Britain “through legal and controlled migration” and added that immigrants should “learn English and understand British social norms and mores”.

June 29: The Rwanda deal is ruled unlawful by the Court of Appeal with judges concluding that it is not a safe country to forcibly deport asylum seekers. The decision handed down by Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, reverses the decision made by the High Court and said: “Unless and until the deficiencies in its asylum processes are corrected, removeal of asylum seekers to Rwanda will be unlawful.”

November 15: Supreme Court rules Rishi Sunak’s flagship plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful. The UK’s highest court ruled on Wednesday that flights will not be able to go ahead in a blow to the prime minister’s key pledge to cut immigration to the UK. The unanimous ruling by judges agreed with a Court of Appeal decision in June that found that Mr Sunak’s £140m deal was unlawful because of deficiencies in the Rwandan asylum system.

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