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Rishi Sunak has said the government will appeal against a court ruling that provisions of the UK’s Illegal Migration Act – which created powers to send asylum seekers to Rwanda – should be disapplied in Northern Ireland.

The High Court in Belfast on Monday morning ordered the “disapplication” of sections of the act as they undermine human rights protections guaranteed in the region under post-Brexit arrangements.

The Illegal Migration Act provides new powers for the government to detain and remove asylum seekers it deems to have arrived illegally in the UK. Central to the new laws is the scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Mr Justice Humphreys said aspects of the Illegal Migration Act were also incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which the UK remains signed up to.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the government would appeal against the ruling and the judgment “changes nothing about our operational plans to send illegal migrants to Rwanda this July or the lawfulness of our Safety of Rwanda Act”.

Following Brexit, the UK and the EU agreed the Windsor Framework, which stipulates there can be no diminution of the rights provisions contained within the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998, even if they differ from the rest of the UK.

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Migrant pays to return to France

The judge found several elements of the Illegal Immigration Act cause a “significant” reduction of the rights enjoyed by asylum seekers in Northern Ireland under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

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“I have found that there is a relevant diminution of right in each of the areas relied upon by the applicants,” he said.

He added: “The applicants’ primary submission therefore succeeds. Each of the statutory provisions under consideration infringes the protection afforded to RSE (Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity) in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.”

The judge ruled that the sections of the Act that were the subject of the legal challenges should be “disapplied” in Northern Ireland.

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The ruling will fuel a row between Ireland and the UK in recent weeks following the Dublin government introducing plans to return asylum seekers to the UK who cross the border from Northern Ireland into the Republic.

The plans were introduced after the Safety of Rwanda Bill became law at the end of April. The law declares the African nation a safe place to deport asylum seekers to.

Irish justice minister Helen McEntee told a parliamentary committee more than 80% of recent arrivals in Ireland came via the land border with Northern Ireland.

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Ireland plans to return migrants to UK

Moday’s cases were brought to Belfast’s High Court by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and a 16-year-old asylum seeker from Iran who arrived in the UK as an unaccompanied child on a small boat from France last summer.

He is currently living in Northern Ireland where his application has not yet been determined but said he would be killed or sent to prison if returned to Iran.

Mr Justice Humphreys agreed to place a temporary stay on the disapplication ruling until another hearing at the end of May, when the applicants will be able to respond to the judgment.

Lawyer Sinead Marmion, who represented the teenager, said the judgment was “hugely significant”.

She said it would prevent the Rwanda scheme applying in Northern Ireland.

“This is a huge thorn in the government’s side and it has completely put a spanner in the works,” she said.

A sign saying welcome to the republic of Rwanda. Pic: AP
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The UK government passed a law declaring Rwanda safe. Pic: AP

The prime minister said: “This judgment changes nothing about our operational plans to send illegal migrants to Rwanda this July or the lawfulness of our Safety of Rwanda Act.

“I have been consistently clear that the commitments in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement should be interpreted as they were always intended, and not expanded to cover issues like illegal migration.

“We will take all steps to defend that position, including through appeal.”

Gavin Robinson, leader of Northern Ireland’s DUP, called on the government to prevent a fracture in immigration policy between the UK’s nations.

He said if nations have different policies it would make Northern Ireland a “magnet for asylum seekers seeking to escape enforcement”.

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Could Trump’s win nix SEC crypto suits? Critics say he’s ‘pandering’ for votes

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One crypto lawyer thinks a Donald Trump election win would revert some SEC crypto lawsuits, but others note he hasn’t always kept campaign promises.

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Sunak’s Number 10 is much better at keeping secrets than others

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Sunak's Number 10 is much better at keeping secrets than others

Suddenly, at election time, political predictions become so much harder and riskier. Everything changes in a campaign, not least the news cycle.

That’s my excuse, at any rate, for failing to foresee the announcement of a general election in last week’s Politics at Jack and Sam’s.

There were a few clues – and one magisterial tweet from Financial Times journalist Lucy Fisher – but we were deaf to the signals.

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Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Rishi Sunak speaks to journalists on the plane on their way to Staffordshire, Britain May 24, 2024. HENRY NICHOLLS/Pool via REUTERS
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Pic: Reuters

In this week’s Politics At Jack and Sam’s podcast, we reflect how this Number 10 – in big contrast to the last two – is much better at keeping secrets.

But the moment an election is called, the way information gets out alters and everything becomes trickier.

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Normally political news emerges in so many different ways. There’s parliament. Government announcements. Questions, written and oral. MPs themselves, including ministers, wandering the corridors of the Commons where journalists can go stopping for a gossip.

All of that disappears at election time. Keeping things secret from the other side matters a lot more, while decisions and information is held by a much tighter group of people.

That’s why it’s not really feasible to do a weekly look ahead political podcast – and we’re responding by going daily. More details to follow.

Rishi Sunak‘s allies are quite upfront that the timing of the general election was a finely balanced argument and you can make a case both ways.

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One of the big things that motivated Sunak to go now was that he was doing – in his view – big things; welfare announcements, defence spending commitments, NHS workforce plan.

But they found people weren’t listening and the polls weren’t moving. They weren’t “getting a hearing”. Which they put down to people being switched off from politics and apathy being high – and so the decision to call an election was motivated by that.

The other big consideration was that from around March, early April they were getting internal economic indicators, suggesting the economic conditions – things like inflation, interest rates – might be favourable sufficiently such that they could base a campaign around.

Fascinatingly, they say there wasn’t a “decision” meeting two months ago or even three weeks ago – the move was more like the tide coming in slowly.

Although Labour were caught on the hop – some staff had booked leave, were privately confident there was nothing coming this summer and the Labour campaign bus is not yet ready – candidates claim to be pretty happy with what’s happened so far.

However, the biggest challenge of the next five weeks will be seeing whether they can respond to the pressure of a campaign, and the relentless desire for more of everything.

Currently the narrative is that Sunak had a miserable start – in a few weeks, pictures of the PM in the rain could be a plucky fighter battling against the odds.

This feels unlikely right now, but having been through the 2017 campaign, we know anything can happen.

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