Civil Servants v Rwanda Plan: Why You Got It All Wrong

A few days since the Rwanda bill was passed and the Government’s scheme got the go-ahead, people have been upset to see headlines claiming:

“Civil service union tries to BLOCK Rwanda crackdown” – Daily Mail
“Civil Service union tries to stop Rwanda flights with judicial review” – The Telegraph

Uh! Typical. Flippin’ civil servants. Uncivil servants more like. The Blob. *angry sounds off*

If you feel upset at this, I understand. But there’s one thing that should cheer you up. That’s not what’s happening.

The headlines tell you the story that civil servants are doing this to thwart (you only really get that word in these kind of stories or superhero films) the will of the elected members of our parliament.

The civil servants haven’t teamed up to sue the Government. The First Division Association (FDA), which is a union that represents senior civil servants in the UK, has initiated a judicial review. Their worry is that, under the current situation, civil servants could be forced to break the law or the Civil Service Code in carrying out the actions the politicians are requesting.

The UK government introduced the “Safety of Rwanda” legislation, which overrides a Supreme Court decision from last November. The court had ruled that Rwanda was not a safe place to send genuine refugees because they could face torture and abuse upon return to their home countries.

I suppose they were saying Rwanda isn’t a safe place to deport to because the home countries of the refugees aren’t safe, which is probably a reason a genuine refugee left there in there first place. It wasn’t saying Rwanda wasn’t safe in and of itself, but that’s a tangent for a different post.

The Government’s bill fixed this problem. They passed a bill which allows ministers to ignore the European Court of Human Rights and directly instruct officials to organize flights to Rwanda. Sorted.

Meanwhile, if you’re a civil servant you signed up to the Civil Service Code. The first rule of the Civil Service Code is, “You do not talk about the Civil Service Code!” The same goes for the second, but further down the document is where it gets good.

The Civil Service Code says that you cannot break international law. So, the Safety of Rwanda Bill declares Rwanda safe but the international law still remains. The Government can legally ignore our Supreme Court but the civil servants are left is a tricky situation.

They have to do what the ministers tell them to AND they have to stay within international law. If they are told to put on a flight to Rwanda you’ve just created a paradox. This is like going back in time to kill your own grandfather. An action I hope is also frowned upon in the Civil Service Code.

The union wants the High Court to rule on whether this aspect of the legislation would put civil servants in conflict with their legal obligations or not.

If the union is successful it could likely see the Government ordered to remove the conflict by holding another parliamentary vote to either specify in law that the UK will ignore the injunctions or to amend the Civil Service Code.

It’s important to note that those outcomes won’t stop the Rwanda plan, they’ll simply stop civil servants having to pick which sackable offence to commit; breaking their own code or not performing their job.

That explains headlines like this:

“Sunak ‘confident’ civil service will enact Rwanda bill despite legal concerns” – The Guardian

Of course he’s confident. He knows this case won’t stop it.

The kind of people who are filling X with comments like, “Typical Civil Servant activists. Oh, they’ll come into the office to thwart some will of the people, won’t they?” are the people who would love one of the outcomes of this case. The UK could be legally ignoring the ECHR. They’d love a bit of that.

Look, I understand that the actual details of the legal action being brought in no way disproves the claims that the Civil Service has been captured by lefty activists, but this story isn’t proof that it has.

You may think the union's claim is a sly way to scupper the flights. Then say that. Knowing the real story doesn't mean you have to start loving the Civil Service. With this story we have a choice. We can understand the details of the real story or we can stay angry at the false one and we can see which option a lot of the newspapers think you prefer.

» Read the source story

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