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Lords Committee expresses significant concerns about UK-Rwanda asylum arrangement

18 October 2022

The UK Government should not have concluded the agreement to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda as a mere political agreement without parliamentary scrutiny or legally enforceable safeguards, according to the House of Lords International Agreements Committee. The political agreement, also known as a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), concluded between the governments of the UK and Rwanda in April, has far-reaching consequences for affected individuals and their rights.

The report

In a report, published today, the committee questions the use of an MoU, rather than a formal treaty, as a vehicle for the relocation of asylum seekers deemed to have arrived illegally in the UK.

This is because MoUs are not legally binding. Consequently, the safeguards set out in the UK-Rwanda MoU for relocated individuals are not legally enforceable—neither the individuals themselves nor the UK Government can ensure the rights of those affected are protected once they have been transferred to Rwanda.

The UK Government has also avoided any meaningful parliamentary scrutiny by choosing to conclude the agreement as an MoU rather than a treaty. It is unacceptable that the Government should be able to use prerogative powers to agree important arrangements with other states that have serious human rights implications without any scrutiny by Parliament.

Such agreements should be entered into as legally enforceable treaties. Where this is not possible, the committee calls on the Government to deposit MoUs for parliamentary scrutiny in the same way as a treaty—that is, allowing for a gap of at least 21 sitting days between the deposit of the MoU before Parliament and its implementation.

The committee does not offer any conclusions as to whether the MoU is compatible with the UK’s international law obligations, given proposed deportations under the UK-Rwanda MoU are currently being examined by the High Court. However, it does note that during the course of its inquiry it routinely heard from witnesses that the UK-Rwanda MoU is not consistent with the UK's obligations under international law.

Chair's comments

Baroness Hayter, Chair of the International Agreements Committee said:

“There need to be clearer guidelines as to when it is acceptable to enter an international agreement with another state using an MoU. Where an agreement significantly engages the rights of individuals, legally enforceable treaties should be the vehicle of choice.

“It is unacceptable that the Government can avoid parliamentary scrutiny of important agreements with significant human rights implications by concluding such agreements as MoUs.

“We regret that it failed to respond to our call for evidence and did not submit evidence to our inquiry.

“We ask the Government to engage with us constructively and discuss the practicalities of introducing a mechanism for the scrutiny of important MoUs, and to set out why, in this case, it decided to use an MoU for its arrangement with Rwanda.”

Further information