The UK government will appeal a court ruling deeming plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda unlawful, Rishi Sunak has said.
Court of Appeal judges ruled Rwanda had not provided enough safeguards to prove it is a “safe third country”.
The prime minister said he “fundamentally disagrees” with the ruling and said the government will challenge it in the Supreme Court.
The charity which brought the challenge welcomed the ruling.
A spokesperson for Asylum Aid said the decision was a “vindication of the importance of the rule of law and basic fairness”.
But Mr Sunak said that while he respects the court’s decision he will do “whatever is necessary” to disrupt criminal gangs operating small boat crossings.
He said: “I strongly believe the Rwandan government has provided the assurances necessary to ensure there is no real risk that asylum-seekers relocated under the Rwanda policy would be wrongly returned to third countries – something that the Lord Chief Justice agrees with.
“Rwanda is a safe country. The High Court agreed. The UNHCR have their own refugee scheme for Libyan refugees in Rwanda. We will now seek permission to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court.”
The Rwandan government insisted it was “one of the safest countries in the world” and had been recognised for its “exemplary treatment of refugees”.
The case was brought by 10 people from countries including Syria, Iraq and Albania, who arrived in the UK in small boats, alongside Asylum Aid, who argued the policy was unlawful.
The decision on whether Rwanda could be deemed a safe third country for asylum seekers to have their claims processed is partly based on whether there is a risk that people could be forced back to the country from where they were originally fleeing.
The High Court had backed the government’s policy at an earlier hearing but that decision was scrutinised by Appeal Court judges Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, Sir Geoffrey Vos and Lord Justice Underhill in this latest stage of the process.
While Lord Burnett sided with the UK government, the others concluded that the assurances from the Rwandan government were not “sufficient to ensure that there is no real risk that asylum seekers relocated under the Rwanda policy will be wrongly returned to countries where they face persecution or other inhumane treatment”.
They said that sending asylum seekers to Rwanda will be unlawful “unless and until the deficiencies in [its government’s] asylum processes are corrected”.
The judges stressed their decision “implies no view whatever about the political merits or otherwise of the Rwanda policy” and said that they were unanimous that the Rwandan government’s assurances had been made “in good faith”.
Tessa Gregory, a partner at law firm Leigh Day which represented Asylum Aid in the case, said: “We are delighted that the Court of Appeal has ruled that the Rwanda removals process is unlawful on grounds of safety.”
It acknowledged that not all of the charity’s challenges had been accepted by the court, but said the ruling had affirmed there are “clear deficiencies” with the policy.
Other human rights groups have welcomed the court’s decision, with Freedom From Torture describing it as a “victory for reason and compassion”.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman is expected to respond to the ruling in the House of Commons later.
The plan to send people who arrive in the UK illegally to Rwanda was first unveiled in April 2022 as the government said it was aiming to deter people from crossing the English Channel in small boats.
But minutes before the first deportation flight was due to take off two months later, it was halted after a legal challenge was granted.
In December, the High Court decided that the plan did not breach the UN’s Refugee Convention – which sets out the human rights of anyone seeking asylum – and ruled that it was legal.
But the following month it was decided that some of the parties in that case should be allowed to appeal against elements of that decision – and have the case heard by the Court of Appeal.
The latest decision ruled that, until the Rwandan government can satisfy that it is a safe place for refugees, the UK government’s flagship immigration policy will contravene article three of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects against torture.
Ministers say the policy will deter thousands of people from illegally crossing the Channel, and break up people-smuggling gangs in the process.
This week the Home Office said it expects it to cost £169,000 for every person deported and processed under the Rwanda scheme – more than it currently costs to house an asylum seeker in the UK.
But the same analysis warned rising accommodation costs could mean the cost of housing an asylum claimant in the UK could be £165,000 per person within four years.
The Home Office says it currently spends almost £7m a day on hotel accommodation to house asylum seekers.
Asked after the ruling if the government was confident the first deportation flight would take off before the next general election, a Downing Street spokesman said it couldn’t “put a timetable on that”.
Labour’s Yvette Cooper said the policy is “completely unravelling” and called it “unworkable, unethical and extortionate”.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said the policy would have done nothing to stop “dangerous Channel crossings” and said Ms Braverman should “accept reality” over the Rwanda plan.