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House of Lords delays Sunak’s Rwanda Bill

Rishi Sunak faced defeat in his first test in passing the controversial Safety of Rwanda Bill in the House of Lords on Monday. The Upper House voted 214 to 171 to delay the prime minister’s flagship UK-Rwanda treaty. The House of Commons passed this bill on Wednesday, despite a major rebellion by the Tories. The bill, which is the centerpiece of Sunak’s election plan, was approved in the lower house by 320 votes to 276 votes. Despite over 60 Tory MPs rebelling, only 11 voted against it.

Former Labour attorney general Peter Goldsmith presented a motion for debate in the Upper House which seeks to delay the sanctioning of the Bill till the government can show without doubt that Rwanda is a safe country for the deportation of illegal migrants. Lord Goldsmith, who chairs the International Agreements Committee consisting of four other Conservative members, suggested on behalf of the committee that certain measures need to be put in place before the treaty is ratified. Measures such as improved complaints process, proper training of Rwandan officials, and a law ensuring that asylum seekers will not be sent back to countries where they may face danger need to be put in place before this bill can be endorsed. 

The debate in the House of Lords saw stiff opposition to the Bill with Labour’s Lord Vernon Coaker leveraging it as an opportunity to attack Sunak for statements he made in his recent press conference. Coaker said, “What we’ve seen today is not a House of Lords seeking to block, to act in an anti-democratic way, to do anything other than to do its job - which is to say to the government where we believe that you should think again”. He added, “that, as a revising chamber, as an advisory chamber, is absolutely what we should be doing. And nobody, least of all the prime minister, should hold press conferences, lecturing us about what our role is, when all we seek to do is to improve it and to act in our proper constitutional role”. 

Sunak's press conference

Most of the Lords who put forth their arguments in Monday’s debate spoke in favour of delaying the ratification of the Bill. One such speaker was Liverpool’s Lord David Alton, a crossbencher who used Winston Churchill in his argument to prove that this bill stood in violation of international human rights. He said that it was Churchill who promoted human rights which are now taken for granted and that the government should follow in his footsteps when making this law. He raised serious concerns over Rwanda being a safe place for asylum seekers, given the nation’s stand on the LGBTQIA+ community and human rights record. While he recognized the need to “stop the boats”, he firmly stated that this Bill was not the answer to it. 

Labour’s Baroness Ruth Lister said during the debate that it would be irresponsible to ratify the treaty in its current state. She expressed concerns about the repercussions the passing of this Bill might pose to vulnerable children. She added that sending away children who have already been through considerable trauma to a different land like a parcel would be a serious breach of the United Kingdom’s obligation to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

With the Upper House delaying Sunak’s bill, it has joined the list of institutions that stand against it the Court of Appeal rejected this plan in April last year, followed by the Supreme Court in November. This policy has also faced scathing backlash from opposition parties, human rights lawyers, and activists it is at serious risk of making the UK breach several human rights treaties if passed. Lord Goldsmith mentioned that the treaty can be ratified after some adjustments, but it is evident that Sunak has a challenging task ahead to gain approval for his plan and initiate flights to Rwanda.

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Tags: #immigration #RishiSunak #AsylumSeekers #RwandaBill #migrantscrisis


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