Earlier today (15 Nov 2023) a UK Supreme Court ruling declared that the government policy of relocating asylum seekers to Rwanda was not permissible, due to the risk of relocation back to the countries from which they had fled.

As a consequence, there is talk of the prime minister, Rishi Sunak introducing legislation which ”confirms” that Rwanda is safe for asylum seekers.

Is this permissible under UK law/parliamentary conventions/constitution, etc.?

Whilst not quite comparable, could a government introduce legislation confirming other controversial facts? Ultimately could they confirm that 2+2 equals 5?


1 Answer 1


Yes, it can. Parliament is sovereign in the UK, which means that the legislature is supreme over the executive and judicial branches. If parliament were to pass a bill which overruled the Supreme Court's judgement, that is what would happen.

The proposed legislative pathway is slightly more than just declaring Rwanda to be safe though, and - based on Sunak's statement - will focus on addressing the issue raised in the court's judgement. In particular, the court held that Rwanda could not be considered a safe country because there were "substantial grounds for believing that the removal of the claimants to Rwanda would expose them to a real risk of ill-treatment by reason of refoulement".

Sunak proposed in his press conference that the government would agree a new treaty with Rwanda which would "provide a guarantee in law that those who are relocated from the UK to Rwanda will be protected against removal from Rwanda" and "make clear that [the UK] will bring anyone back if ordered to do so by a court".

Thereafter, to attempt to prevent another 18 months or so of the policy again going through the court system, Sunak will put forward legislation to "enable Parliament to confirm that, that with our new Treaty, Rwanda is safe". If Parliament agrees, this would stop the policy being challenged on these grounds in the UK's domestic courts.

Sunak went on in his press conference to state that he "will not allow a foreign court to block these flights". Parliament, via legislation, could empower the government to ignore injunctions or rulings from the European Court of Human Rights, or withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights altogether.

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, published a few weeks after this answer was posted, includes the clause "Every decision-maker must conclusively treat the Republic of Rwanda as a safe country". 'Decision-maker' is defined in the bill as the Home Secretary, immigration officials, and courts/tribunals considering a decision made by the aforementioned. 'Safe country' is defined as "a country to which persons may be removed from the United Kingdom in compliance with all of the United Kingdom's obligations under international law that are relevant to the treatment in that country of persons who are removed there".

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    @NoDataDumpNoContribution No, the Supreme Court is just supreme over other courts, not parliament. The reason it was able to block the Rwanda policy in this first instance was that the government tried to enact the policy through existing executive powers, rather than through primary legislation.
    – CDJB
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 20:16
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    So the Supreme Court of the UK is not supreme over the Parliament but the other way around? This is different from other countries where usually the Supreme Court as the guardian of the constitution is even above Parliament although Parliaments often have the power to change or amend constitutions. In the UK, it's basically just the Parliament then. Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 20:18
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    @NoDataDumpNoContribution That's correct.
    – CDJB
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 20:19
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    Parliament can't withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights alone. It would also have to withdraw from the Belfast Agreement that secured peace in Northern Ireland, which requires the European Convention on Human Rights to be incorporated into Northern Ireland law -- and the ECHR itself requires it to apply throughout your territory, so it can't be applied only in Northern Ireland. It would be astonishingly controversial for the UK to unilaterally withdraw from the Belfast Agreement.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 9:40
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    @kenod The word you’re looking for is “entrenched” — there are no special provisions in the constitution to make it more difficult to change than ordinary laws. It’s also not codified, meaning that it’s not contained in a single document with the force of law. It is however, contrary to some assertions, a written constitution — the only alternative to that would be that it was passed down in oral tradition.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 16:25

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