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Illegal Migration Act: Northern Ireland

Volume 750: debated on Tuesday 14 May 2024

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Home Department if he will make a statement on the High Court judgment in Belfast of 13 May 2024 disapplying the Illegal Migration Act 2023 in Northern Ireland.

Let me start by expressing the Government’s disappointment at this judgment. We continue to believe that our policy is lawful, that our approach is compatible with international law and, specifically, that the Illegal Migration Act proposals are compatible with article 2 of the Windsor framework. The Government will take steps to defend their position, including through an appeal. We have consistently made it clear that the rights commitments in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement should be interpreted as they were always intended and not expanded to cover issues such as illegal migration.

This judgment changes nothing about our operational plans to send illegal migrants to Rwanda this July or the lawfulness of our Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024. We continue to work to get regular flights off to Rwanda in the coming weeks, and nothing will distract us from that or from delivering to the timetable I have set out. We must start the flights to stop the boats.

The Government have consistently applied immigration law on a UK-wide basis. It is important to remember that those who have been served a notice for removal to Rwanda are being considered under the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and the Safety of Rwanda Act. This judgment relates to the Illegal Migration Act and so does not impact our operations or planning for Rwanda.

Preparations to begin flights within weeks are continuing at pace. As the Prime Minister made clear, “nothing will distract us” from the job of implementing the Rwanda policy. We must start the flights to stop the boats. That is the fair thing to do, it is the right thing to do for our country and it is the humane thing to do. Our conviction that the Rwanda scheme is lawful and necessary is unchanged. We are acting in the national interest and we will not be deterred.

I am grateful for that response, and I thank the Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for being present today. But we need not be here, as the issues elucidated yesterday by the High Court in Belfast were fairly and thoroughly explored in this House, and in the other place, during the passage of both the Illegal Migration Act and the Safety of Rwanda Act. When my colleagues and I raised these concerns here in Parliament, we were told by the Government that we were wrong, yet the High Court in Belfast said yesterday that we were right. The only difference between the encroachment on the application of our sovereign immigration policy in Northern Ireland, as of the rest of the United Kingdom, by the Illegal Migration Act is that a case was advanced on the basis of that Act, yet a case on the Safety of Rwanda Act has not yet been considered. However, the Government will know that the rationale outlined yesterday by the High Court for the Illegal Migration Act will similarly apply to the Safety of Rwanda Act as well.

It need not be so. Although the Government chose to dismiss the concerns we outlined in this House, and that our colleagues outlined in the other place, they had an opportunity to put this issue beyond doubt. I tabled an amendment to new clause 3, along with my colleagues, giving the Government the opportunity to put the issue to bed, in order to maintain the integrity of this country’s sovereign immigration policy and the integrity and protection of our borders, but they chose not to do so. I am grateful that the Minister has indicated his willingness to appeal, but when they had the opportunity to put the issue beyond doubt, why did they not do that? Do they recognise that in not doing so they have significantly impaired the uniformity of the UK’s immigration policy?

In 1922, long before the EU was envisaged, and long before the UK joined and then departed, the islands of Great Britain and Ireland had an integrity in immigration policy: the common travel area applied. What steps are the Government taking to get a British Isles solution to immigration, outside the control of the EU and outside, as it is, the Schengen area? Finally, what steps will the Minister and his Government take to assert Parliament’s sovereign will to protect the borders of the United Kingdom?

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his constructive tone as he eloquently makes his case. I note the narrative that he has advanced. The Government are considering judgment very carefully, as you would expect, Mr Speaker, and we are taking legal advice. I can reconfirm, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, that the Government intend to appeal the judgment.

We have consistently made it clear that the rights commitments in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement should be interpreted as they were always intended, and not expanded to cover reserved issues, such as illegal migration. We are equally clear that immigration is a reserved matter that has always been applied uniformly across the UK. We do not accept that the Good Friday agreement should be read so creatively as to extend to matters such as tackling illegal migration, which is a UK-wide issue and not in any way related to the original intention of the Good Friday agreement.

On the specific point about the common travel area, all immigration legislation provides a UK-wide framework for legal and illegal migration. We continue to have a constructive working relationship with the Irish Government when it comes to ensuring that abuse of the common travel area is robustly and appropriately tackled. On the specific point about asserting Parliament’s sovereign will around these matters, I would argue that the recent Safety of Rwanda Act clearly asserts Parliament’s sovereign will. While the latest judgment relates to the IMA, we are committed to appealing it.

This case, together with the case a few months ago about the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023, have a common theme: the applicability of article 2 of the Windsor framework and the direct application of EU law. What are the Government going to do about that? Will they seek to expedite the appeal directly to the Supreme Court? It seems to me this is a fundamental issue that need resolving. Further, will they seek further clarification, either from the Joint Committee on the Northern Ireland protocol or by other means, to clarify the situation and protect non-devolved matters from being dealt with in this way?

I am always grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his contribution. He speaks with real authority, given his professional background, his role in this House, and his former position as a distinguished Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor. He will recognise that the court will make its final order in two weeks, when an appeal can be brought. He made a number of observations, on which Ministers will reflect when taking decisions, but as I have said, and as the Prime Minister has made very clear, it is our intention to appeal this judgment. We think that it is right and proper to take all steps necessary to defend our position.

The Conservative chaos continues. It truly beggars belief that just weeks after the Prime Minister negotiated the Windsor framework in February last year, he promptly brought forward immigration legislation that appears to have left Northern Ireland with immigration rules that are different from those for the rest of the UK. Concerns about the Illegal Migration Act 2023 were raised at the time by the right hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), as he has just pointed out; why did the Government choose to ignore his warnings? I do not believe that the Minister answered the questions that the right hon. Gentleman just put to him.

We on the Labour Benches are utterly committed to upholding both the Good Friday agreement and the Windsor framework in all their dimensions, but this Government appear to be more committed to their failing Illegal Migration Act. Can the Minister assure the House that nothing that the Government do will in any way compromise the Good Friday agreement or the Windsor framework?

For those who are understandably struggling to keep up with the never-ending stream of immigration legislation that has been flowing from this Government, the Illegal Migration Act was the second of three Bills, all of which had one goal in mind—sending asylum seekers to Rwanda—and all of which are completely failing on their own terms. It has been a shambles from start to finish. Meanwhile, we on the Labour Benches are clear about the problem that we face: large numbers of desperate asylum seekers are crossing continents, exploited by criminal smuggling gangs who operate routes across the English channel, and are being met by an incompetent and clueless Conservative Government who have lost control of our borders and are addicted to headline-chasing gimmicks.

In contrast, the Labour party would never have gone down the Rwanda rabbit hole. Instead of wasting taxpayers’ money on Rwanda, we would introduce a new border security command, with extra resource and new powers to go after the criminal gangs. Instead of using expensive asylum hotels, we will deliver our backlog clearance plan, and will have a new returns unit to remove people with no right to be in the UK. I once again urge the Minister to stop flogging this dead horse of a Rwanda policy, and to instead adopt Labour’s pragmatic plan to stop the Tories’ small boats chaos and fix our broken asylum system.

Different week, same rant. Week on week, we hear the same rant about the Opposition’s position, but they have no credible plan to stop the flow of people crossing the channel. I simply do not accept the shadow Minister’s characterisation of the situation. Let me be clear for him: yes, we will uphold our legal obligations—we are committed to that—but the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024 does not engage the Good Friday agreement, including the rights chapter. Those rights seek to address long-standing, specific issues relating to Northern Ireland’s past, and do not extend to matters engaged by the Act. I should also reiterate for him, because perhaps he missed this, that we are operationalising the Rwanda policy on the basis of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022.

As for the Opposition Front Benchers’ very scant alternative for tackling illegal migration, which the shadow Minister today again proffered to the House, I can tell him that we have already doubled National Crime Agency funding for immigration and crime. We already have thousands of officials working on this matter in the migration and borders directorate. In practice, his policy means a migrant amnesty, and letting thousands of illegal migrants, who should not be here, stay in the UK indefinitely. He would end the Rwanda scheme—the Leader of the Opposition has been very clear that he would end that, come what may—but it is already working and deterring people from making crossings. The Opposition would allow tens of thousands of claims to be lodged from outside the United Kingdom, undoing all the progress we have made in addressing the asylum backlog. They would also do a deal with the European Union—one that will not stop the boats—taking 100,000 asylum seekers every year from EU countries. I do not think that is a credible offering to the country. The Opposition just do not get it. They are trying to take the public for fools. Fortunately, we have a plan, and we are getting on and delivering on it. We are delivering resources, and we will see our plan through.

Will my hon. Friend indicate the extent to which the Illegal Migration Act 2023, the Windsor framework and the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, as it relates to the sovereignty of the whole United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, could have been worded sufficiently clearly and unambiguously to remove the grounds for this judgment, in line with the disapplication principles set out in paragraph 144 of the Supreme Court judgment on Rwanda from last November, which is extremely clear?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his contribution. I refer him and all right hon. and hon. Members to the position that I have set out. The Government are clear that the will of Parliament has been expressed on these issues. The position is as I have set out, and we will robustly defend it.

The SNP welcomes the judgment from the High Court of Belfast, and thanks the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the individual in the other case for taking this matter forward. It is important that these awful pieces of legislation are challenged. I note to the Minister that this judgment came from a domestic court, not the international courts that the Government seem so terribly afraid of and consistently run down. The court found that the Illegal Migration Act 2023 was incompatible with article 2 of the Windsor framework and with the European convention on human rights; sections 2, 5 and 6 of the 2023 Act lead to a diminution of rights. The court also found incompatibility between the 2023 Act and the Human Rights Act 1998 on the duty to remove, obligations to potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, and responsibilities to children and their best interests—all extremely serious matters that remain of concern.

As the right hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) said, all this was entirely predictable. The Government were warned about the implications for the Good Friday agreement throughout proceedings on the Illegal Migration Act and the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024. Can the Minister say why his Government failed to heed the warnings and expert advice? Why did they ignore the status of Northern Ireland, and what now for the applicability of the Rwanda Act in Northern Ireland?

My fellow Scottish MPs and I are disturbed by the fact that our constituents, neighbours and friends are not even afforded the same rights as those in Northern Ireland. What are the implications of that decision for the Union? Human rights should be for all of us.

I can probably answer that question fairly rapidly. We fully understand the position of the Scottish National party, which has been consistently expressed during the passage of the various pieces of legislation. The SNP does not support the Government in our efforts to tackle illegal migration head-on. The position is as I have described; I will not give a running commentary on ongoing litigation, but we are determined to appeal this judgment. We are taking legal advice, and as I have said, I can be very clear that the judgment changes nothing about our operational plans to send illegal migrants to Rwanda this July, or the lawfulness of our Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024. Concerns have been expressed about migrants flocking to Northern Ireland to avoid deportation to Rwanda, but there is absolutely no benefit whatsoever to doing so. We are operationalising this policy on the basis of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022.

I thank my hon. Friend for coming to the Chamber; I hope he is enjoying life back at the Home Office. In the decision, the judge found that section 7A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, as amended by the Windsor framework, must be read as meaning that Northern Ireland is effectively to be treated as part of the European Union. I believed the assurances given to me at the time, but is it not patently clear now that the Windsor framework has operated in a way that undermines our sovereignty and Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom, and has fundamentally failed on its first contact with reality?

I refer my right hon. and learned Friend to what I have said about our determination to appeal the judgment. As she knows from real experience, immigration is a reserved matter and policy should be applied consistently across the UK, as we have done consistently to date.

The European convention on human rights is not just a key part of the UK’s unwritten constitution, but fundamental to the Good Friday agreement. That is where the commitment to the vindication of rights flows from. Yes, Brexit and the provisions that have followed have underpinned those rights and have allowed for the pursuance of a remedy. Perhaps those who championed the Brexit project might step through the consequences of their actions better in future. I am glad that our region has additional protection, but the ruling is very clear: the Illegal Migration Act 2023 is not compatible with human rights, and the declaration of incompatibility has implications in all jurisdictions. Is it not time that the Government developed an actual strategy that focused on safe routes, targeting people-smuggling gangs and investing in efficient processing? Is it not time we had an actual plan, instead of this £400 million performance of cruelty?

I profoundly disagree with the hon. Lady’s stance on Brexit, and I respectfully disagree with her interpretation and characterisation of the situation that we are discussing. We have seen over half a million people come to this country via safe and legal routes since 2015. We can all be enormously proud of that as a country, but there is a moral imperative to shut down the evil criminal gangs that are responsible for taking people’s money and bringing them across the channel in unseaworthy vessels, with no regard whatsoever for human life—for whether those people arrive safely.

We will do everything necessary within our power to put those evil criminal gangs out of business. To date, we have made progress through the plan that has been delivered, but this is the important next step in rendering the business model redundant. I urge the hon. Lady to rethink her position. It is not good enough to say, “It’s all too difficult,” and just allow unlimited numbers of people to make those very dangerous crossings, without having an alternative country to relocate people to when there is no prospect of removing them to their country of origin.

We voted in a referendum to end the rule of EU law throughout the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. Given the muddle that the courts are creating, is not the only way out of this an urgent, short piece of legislation that asserts beyond doubt that we control our own borders?

The Government believe that we have a legal basis for this. I recognise my right hon. Friend’s determination for us to get on and deliver on the Rwanda policy. That is precisely what we are doing, on the basis of the Nationality and Borders Act at this stage, but when it comes to the IMA, we believe that we have a strong legal basis, and that is why we are appealing the judgment.

Across the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, there are 90,000 of our fellow human beings who have arrived in the UK since March last year and are in limbo—their claims are not even being triaged—while they await a third country to take them. The Government know that most of these folks will turn out to be genuine refugees if their cases are ever assessed. They are nevertheless sat rotting at the taxpayer’s expense, vulnerable to exploitation and unable to move on. Even this Government admit that the majority will never go to Rwanda, so what is the Government’s plan for those 90,000 souls?

We are clearly committed to commencing the Illegal Migration Act as soon as possible. The hon. Gentleman will know about the work that has gone on in the Home Office over the last year or so that has dramatically improved asylum decision-making productivity—all efforts that would be out of the window, were those on the Opposition Front Bench to form a Government. We will take appropriate decisions on individual cohorts; I will not get into that on the Floor of the House today—

The hon. Gentleman keeps chuntering from a sedentary position, but the fact is that we take appropriate cohort-related decisions. The message must be very clear that people should not be coming to the United Kingdom via perilous journeys on small boats. That is not an acceptable position to be advocating. We will not advocate that position, and will continue to take steps to address it. The message should go out very clearly to anyone thinking of getting in a small boat: don’t do it.

Many in Northern Ireland will want to understand the practical implications of this court case. If, as some expect, it means that Northern Ireland has become a more attractive place for someone who has arrived in Britain on a small boat, what are the Government doing to investigate, plan for and manage that, and to ensure that it does not have cost implications for the Northern Ireland Executive or local authorities in Northern Ireland?

What I can say to my right hon. Friend, who, of course, takes a real interest in all matters Northern Ireland, is that we are operationalising the Rwanda policy on a UK-wide basis. The legal foundation for that is the Nationality and Borders Act. As I said earlier, there is no benefit to anybody who thinks that going to Northern Ireland will lead to their not being in scope for relocation to Rwanda. That is not the case. The position is clear, and we are getting on and operationalising the policy using the legal footing that is already available to us.

The Government can make as many appeals, promises from the Dispatch Box, and agreements about safeguarding the Union as they want, but the fact remains that because of the pathetic handover of Northern Ireland to the European Union, EU law now extends to and must be applied in Northern Ireland, as the judge made clear yesterday. The result is that we have another hole in the Government’s immigration policy—a national immigration policy now dictated by the EU. Northern Ireland will become a back door in the United Kingdom, and that will hasten the day when we have people controls, as well as goods controls, between Northern Ireland and GB. Does the Minister recognise that unless we remove the source of the problem—namely, the commitments in the withdrawal agreement—it will continue?

There is no merit whatsoever in the suggestion that the UK would hand Northern Ireland over to the European Union. On the matter that we are debating today, the judgment changes nothing about our operational plans to send illegal migrants to Rwanda this July or about the lawfulness of our Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024. We continue to work to get regular flights off to Rwanda in the coming weeks, and nothing will distract us from that or from delivering to the timetable that I set out. We must start the flights to stop the boats. 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 such as illegal migration. We will take all steps to defend that position, including through appeal—those are the words of the Prime Minister. As I say, we are operationalising the Rwanda policy on a UK-wide basis, and we will see through the commitments that we have made.

On the Windsor framework, we told you so. On the judgment itself, legally, all roads lead not to Rome but, in this case, to Strasbourg and the European convention on human rights. The convention was drafted for perfectly honourable reasons in the aftermath of the horror of the second world war, but that was over 70 years ago. It has now clearly been overtaken by events and international migration flows. Has not the time now come for a Conservative Government to include in our election manifesto a clear commitment to seeking to negotiate that convention with our European partners, and, should those negotiations fail, to leave it? If we are not prepared to walk away, they will never take us seriously.

I refer my right hon. Friend to the Government’s stance on the legal position in relation to the Illegal Migration Act. I would also say that for illegal migrants, all roads lead to Rwanda, and for the people smugglers responsible for that evil criminality, all roads lead to prison.

I strongly welcome the logical and inevitable judgment from the High Court of Northern Ireland. If the Government want to have a national immigration policy, they must repeal the Illegal Migration Act, repeal the Safety of Rwanda Act, and have a human-rights compliant policy. Back in 1998, the Governments of the UK and Ireland made the solemn pledge to the people of Northern Ireland that the rights of everyone residing in the community would be protected. Can the Minister give a cast-iron assurance that under no circumstances will article 2 of the Windsor framework, or the Good Friday agreement, be unpicked in the pursuit of this rabbit hole of a Rwanda plan?

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the position that I have set out in relation to the Good Friday agreement. I will not give a running commentary about the litigation, which is, as he will appreciate, ongoing. I absolutely and definitively disagree with him on the utility or sense in repealing the various pieces of illegal migration legislation that he is so vehemently against. I respectfully disagree with him on that. That legislation is helping us to make the progress that we need to put those criminal gangs out of business and ultimately save lives in the channel. I do not think that there is anything more serious for a Government than that. We place it front and centre in the work that we are doing.

It is clear to me that Northern Ireland has just as much right as anywhere else in the UK to have a deterrent to illegal migration, so aspects of this concern me. A few weeks ago, the Irish Government were saying that they should be able to return some illegal migrants who may have gone from the UK to the Republic of Ireland. Does the Minister think that the Irish Government would be better off taking that up with France? If the French took the return of illegal migrants who have entered our country, we would probably not have this problem in the first place.

As I said from the Dispatch Box last week, the position is very clear: we are not willing to have that relationship with the Irish Government and take the return of illegal migrants. That would need to be progressed at an EU level. We think that the European Union should take back those illegal migrants. I think that goes to the heart of the point that my hon. Friend has made.

Thus far, the Minister has not taken the opportunity to respond to the query from my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) about why the Government declined the offer made from the DUP Benches, which would have avoided the judgment that we have heard about. Will he do so now? He has indicated that the Government plan to appeal, but if the appeal fails, what then?

I do not think it wise to speculate on hypothetical situations. We are determined that there is a strong legislative basis, and we will defend it through the appeal. As for debates that have been and gone, the hon. Gentleman will recognise that I was not the Minister at that time, but it is fair to say that the record will speak for itself on the debates that were had.

We need only look at the situation in Dublin to see what happens when illegal migration becomes an issue and is not handled correctly, and to understand the strength of pursuing our Rwanda policy. Although that policy is being dismissed by some, it is interesting that, as I am sure the Minister has noticed, others across Europe are starting to look to it for a solution to this question. The question, “If not Rwanda, where do you want to remove people to?” has never been answered by Labour.

In the light of the judgment, can the Minister reassure me on a couple of points? First, will the UK remain the UK border in terms of migration policy, so that there is no prospect of having any form of checks on people between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which would effectively mean a border within the United Kingdom? Secondly, will the operation of the Rwanda plan be based on, as he said, the Nationality and Borders Act and on the recently passed legislation—the one-stop shop and the child age assessments—which were vital in getting a grip on this issue? Is the plan being taken forward on that basis rather than on the basis of the Illegal Migration Act, which was the core point from this judgment?

My hon. Friend always speaks with authority when it comes to these issues, and he has extensive experience, having been a Minister in the Home Office. I can absolutely say that we will continue to apply migration policy on a UK-wide basis; the UK border will remain that. He is right to highlight the Nationality and Borders Act, and he should be proud of the efforts that he took forward in Government to help deliver it. Labour Members consistently opposed it. In answer to his question about where Labour would send people, which I know he asked a few weeks ago, we are still none the wiser. The truth is that the basis upon which we are able to advance the policy at this stage is the Nationality and Borders Act. He can be confident in that basis. We are getting on and delivering on it.

Of course, this judgment has UK-wide relevance because of the declarations of incompatibility under the Human Rights Act. In our reports on the Illegal Migration Act and the Rwanda policy, the Joint Committee on Human Rights has repeatedly warned that many aspects of the Government’s asylum policy breach the Human Rights Act. That was not just our view, but the weight of the expert evidence that we heard; in fact, those with legal expertise who disagreed with our findings were decidedly thin on the ground. This judgment vindicates our position that on a number of fronts, the Government’s asylum policy breaches the Human Rights Act, particularly as regards the duty to remove. As such, will the Minister confirm that the Government will respect the rule of law and not take any steps to deport anyone under the Rwanda scheme until the relevant avenues of appeal in this case are exhausted and it is clarified that such removals would be lawful?

I know that the hon. and learned Lady is vehemently opposed to the Government’s position on tackling illegal migration. I believe that the Minister for Countering Illegal Migration, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson), will be in front of her Committee tomorrow, and I have no doubt that she will want to ask those questions of him. To go back to the thrust of her question, though, the basis upon which we are facilitating relocations to Rwanda at this stage is that of the Nationality and Borders Act, which is not relevant to the Illegal Migration Act judgment that we are dealing with today.

We were already aware that the Northern Ireland protocol or Windsor framework—whichever one prefers to call it—had resulted in a customs border in the Irish sea. If this judgment stands, it now appears to be the case that it has also destroyed the ability of the United Kingdom Government to determine who should remain within our own borders. Does my hon. Friend not agree, therefore, that the framework has been proven to be inimical to British sovereignty and should be renegotiated, or failing that —as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir John Redwood) has suggested—should be disapplied by legislation of this Parliament?

I would not accept that characterisation. As I have confirmed for the House a number of times, we are taking forward the Rwanda partnership on the basis of the Nationality and Borders Act—that is the legal footing on which we are advancing the policy at this stage. I am confident in that legal foundation, and we will appeal this judgment, which relates very specifically to the Illegal Migration Act.

What else are the Government not telling us about where the EU has overreach into Northern Ireland, and where people in Northern Ireland are once again in limbo between two regulatory entities? Will the Secretary of State and the Government do the right thing and stop stringing the people of Northern Ireland along by simply appealing the decision, and will the Secretary of State commit to legislate to get rid of the EU supremacy on human rights contained in article 2 of the Windsor framework?

Article 2 of the Windsor framework ensures that there is no diminution of rights under the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. We have been consistently clear that the commitments in the Good Friday agreement should be implemented as they were always intended, not expanded to cover issues such as illegal migration. Rightly, we will take all steps to defend that position, including through our appeal.

I think we all sympathise with the Minister for having to take a line that is manifestly absurd. Why is it that the Government are not going to directly legislate to deal with this situation? The legislation is defective, and if we go to appeal and that appeal is rejected, we will have lost a lot more time. Why do we not act now to legislate and sort out this mess?

As I think my hon. Friend will appreciate, we are currently taking legal advice in relation to this judgment. It would not be right to give a running commentary on the substance of that legal advice, and as he knows, as a Minister, I am not in a position to disclose that advice in any event. We will robustly defend our position, but the outcome that my hon. Friend wishes to see—the operationalisation of the Rwanda policy to facilitate these relocations—has its legislative basis in the Nationality and Borders Act. The good news is that he was one of the colleagues who was in the Division Lobby supporting that Act, something that I think his constituents would welcome.

The Government were repeatedly warned about the pitfalls of the Windsor framework, and have been repeatedly warned and advised about the deficiencies of the Rwanda legislation. What is the Minister going to do to ensure that, as a result of the Government’s sloppy and defective drafting of legislation, the lawyers are not the only winners, as always?

We are not going to be thwarted in our efforts to ensure that people are relocated to Rwanda, with the ultimate aim of putting out of business the evil criminal gangs responsible for that heinous trade that puts lives at risk and exploits people for their money. There is a legal basis upon which we are taking the policy forward immediately, and people are being detained for the purposes of relocation, caseworkers are working on individual cases, and arrangements are in place to facilitate the flights. That is where our focus and energies are at this present time, but we are also appealing on the issue of the Illegal Migration Act.

My hon. Friend the Minister has already confirmed that the Government will appeal against the Belfast High Court judgment and that our commitment to the Belfast agreement is unwavering, so the substantive issue is the plan to process asylum seekers’ applications in Rwanda, which Opposition Front Benchers continue to say should not, could not and will not work. Will my hon. Friend confirm that not only are they wrong on all three of those points, but events in Ireland have shown how effective a deterrent this policy is going to prove? Italy, France, Denmark and—I think—the political party of the EU President have already said that it sets a very interesting precedent, one that they will be looking to pursue themselves.

Opposition Front Benchers are invariably wrong when it comes to these issues. My hon. Friend is right to touch on the fact that although back in 2022 we were at the forefront in announcing the Rwanda partnership, others are now following us. As a Government, we recognise and have consistently said that this is a novel approach to tackling the issue, but such challenges require novel solutions, and it is right that we look at novel ways of tackling these migratory flows that are organised and facilitated by evil criminality—the Home Secretary is leading that effort internationally, as well. My hon. Friend’s point is becoming ever more relevant; in fact, only this morning, I saw additional reports of other countries exploring these sorts of arrangements.

Belfast City Council has the second highest number of asylum seekers in all of the United Kingdom; that indicates how important this issue is for us in Northern Ireland. Can the Minister confirm that there is still freedom of movement within the United Kingdom and that subsequently, under the policy of dispersal, we will be able to move any asylum seekers to the GB mainland to be directed, determined and dealt with as this Government see fit? Can he also confirm that this court judgment will not preclude Northern Ireland from holding its constitutional and legal position within the United Kingdom until consent given through a border poll determines otherwise, which is the very foundation of the Good Friday agreement?

There are various technical aspects bound up in that question. If I may, I will take that series of points away and provide the hon. Gentleman with a written response, but what I can say in top-line terms is that when it comes to the application of the Rwanda policy, we are delivering it on a UK-wide basis.

I have sat and listened to all the questions from across the House, so as I am asking the last one, can I say to the Minister that my constituents and I are very worried about immigration, and that if the Rwanda policy that this House has decided to go ahead with works, that should happen and it should be a deterrent? However, what is obvious across the House today is that there is a concern about the Union. This country is about a union of countries together, so I ask the Minister to make sure that all Government Departments understand the concern of colleagues from Northern Ireland, and from across the House, to protect the Union at all costs.

This Government will always, always uphold the Union both in letter and in spirit. My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of this issue to his constituents in Hemel Hempstead and the importance of tackling illegal migration head-on. He can be absolutely assured that Home Office Ministers take our responsibilities to the Union incredibly seriously. The fact that I am joined on the Front Bench by Northern Ireland Office colleagues for this urgent question is very welcome. It provides an opportunity to really demonstrate the fact that we do work as one Government on this issue. It is incumbent on all Ministers to uphold the Union and its importance to our great country in every sense.