Rishi Sunak’s Standoff with European Judges Over Rwanda Deportation Flights

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has escalated his confrontation with European judges over the controversial deportation flights to Rwanda.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued a warning, emphasizing the importance of adhering to Rule 39 interim injunctions.

Sunak, however, asserted the UK’s right to challenge such orders and highlighted new legislation that grants ministers the power to disregard these rulings.

Sunak’s Defiance and Legislative Powers:

During a visit to Yorkshire, Sunak declared his commitment to ensuring that foreign courts would not impede deportation flights.

He underscored the provisions in the recently passed Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, giving ministers the authority to make decisions regarding compliance with ECHR rulings.

Sunak made it clear that the legislative framework includes specific powers designed to counteract any hindrance from foreign courts.

Background on the Safety of Rwanda Bill:

The Safety of Rwanda Bill, currently advancing through Parliament, addresses legal challenges associated with the deportation scheme.

Notably, it stipulates that ministers have the discretion to ignore interim rulings issued by ECHR judges.

These interim measures, often referred to as ‘pyjama injunctions’ due to their issuance outside regular court hours, played a role in grounding the initial flight intended for asylum seekers to Rwanda in 2022.

ECHR’s Legal Obligations and President’s Response:

The ECHR President, Siofra O’Leary, affirmed the clear legal obligation for states to comply with Rule 39 measures, emphasizing their issuance in exceptional circumstances with a genuine and imminent risk of irreparable harm.

O’Leary refrained from commenting directly on the Safety of Rwanda Bill but acknowledged the ongoing debate within the UK, expressing confidence that the country’s legal experts and civil society would thoroughly examine the issues.

Historical Context and Rule 39 Process Reform:

Highlighting the historical compliance of the UK with Rule 39 measures, O’Leary referenced a case involving Russia.

She noted that the Rule 39 process is currently undergoing reforms, with changes introduced in December 2023 to address some criticisms.

The duty judge issuing an interim measure will now be identified, addressing concerns raised in previous instances.

UK Government’s Position and Legislation Compliance:

The UK government’s official spokesman reiterated confidence in the legislation’s compliance with international obligations.

Asserting that the Bill and treaty address the Supreme Court’s concerns, he emphasized the draft’s provision empowering ministers to defy ECHR rulings if deemed necessary.

The government aims to avoid a recurrence of Strasbourg’s intervention that led to the blocking of flights in 2022.


As the Safety of Rwanda Bill progresses through parliamentary processes, the standoff between Rishi Sunak and European judges underscores the complexities surrounding deportation policies and international legal obligations.

The outcome of this dispute will likely shape the future dynamics of UK-ECHR interactions in matters of asylum and immigration.