UK’s House Of Lords Reject Sunak’s Rwanda Asylum Bill, Demand Compliance With International Law

UK’s House Of Lords Reject Sunak’s Rwanda Asylum Bill, Demand Compliance With International Law

By Spy Uganda Correspondent

The House of Lords on Monday inflicted several defeats on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s flagship Rwanda asylum bill, including by seeking to ensure the legislation is fully compliant with domestic and international law.

Members of the UK parliament’s second chamber voted for five amendments to Sunak’s controversial bill aimed at sending asylum seekers to Rwanda by the spring.

These five included an amendment introduced by Labour peer Lord Vernon Coaker, which inserted a clause into the legislation requiring “full compliance with domestic and international law”.

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There were 277 votes in favor of establishing a mechanism to monitor whether Rwanda is safe to 167 in opposition.

The government suffered a major setback with its plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda last year when the Supreme Court ruled the policy was unlawful because it found there was a real risk asylum seekers could be sent back to their country of origin and their safety jeopardised.

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Sunak sought to counter the ruling by upgrading an agreement about the plan between London and Kigali into a treaty, in which the Rwandan government committed to never sending any asylum seeker back to the country they originally came from.

He also promised legislation that declared Rwanda to be a safe country and disapplied parts of human rights law that could leave removal decisions open to legal challenge.

Peers on Monday backed a second amendment, brought by cross-bencher Lord David Hope, that stated Rwanda would be treated as safe only “when, and so long as, the arrangements provided for in the Rwanda treaty have been fully implemented and are being adhered to in practice”.

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The Lords also supported a third amendment that is meant to ensure there is a system in place to check that the UK and Rwanda have implemented safeguards set out in the treaty.

The 110-vote majority in favour of the amendment marked Sunak’s biggest defeat in the Lords since he became prime minister.

Peers are this week voting on almost 50 amendments to Sunak’s bill, which is a key part of his efforts to fulfil his pre-election pledge to “stop the boats” carrying migrants across the English Channel.

But last month the parliamentary joint committee on human rights joined the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, charities and immigration experts in warning that the bill was “fundamentally incompatible with the UK’s human rights obligations”.

Many of the amendments proposed by peers seek to strengthen human rights provisions in the bill. Two further amendments approved by the Lords on Monday called for a means to challenge the presumption that Rwanda is safe should “credible evidence” emerge that suggests otherwise.

Coaker, a former Labour minister, said in the debate in the second chamber that the bill was evidence that the government “has said the facts are not convenient so we’ll change them by legislation”. 

“It matters what this country does because we often stand . . . to say international law is important, that international law should be applied, that international law should be adhered to,” he added. “If that isn’t done then that is the road to chaos.” The Home Office said in a statement.

“We’re focused on delivering for the British people and stopping the boats. The prime minister has been clear that he will tackle this major global challenge with bold and innovative solutions, and the Rwanda scheme is just that.”

Although the Rwanda bill is expected to face significant ongoing opposition in the Lords, it is likely to complete its parliamentary passage in the House of Commons in late March.

Downing Street said the government remained committed to sending flights to Rwanda “in the spring”.

Ministers hope sending some asylum seekers to Rwanda will deter others from making the perilous cross-Channel journey, and start to reduce the number of migrants coming to the UK via clandestine routes.

The Home Office said 327 people made the Channel crossing in small boats on Sunday, the second highest daily count this year.

Last week the National Audit Office, parliament’s spending watchdog, said the cost of Sunak’s Rwanda policy could exceed £580mn by the end of the decade.

The vast bulk of the UK payments to Kigali would be in the form of aid payments. The Commons public accounts committee responded to the NAO report by saying it would launch an inquiry into the costs of the UK-Rwanda partnership to scrutinize whether it represented “value for money”.

In early January this year, most British lawmakers approved the controversial bill before their colleagues in the upper chamber voted to delay it.

The bill compels judges to regard Rwanda as a safe country and gives ministers the power to disregard parts of the Human Rights Act.

For accepting to receive deportees, Kigali has so far pocketed $300 million from London. 

After numerous court cases and international outcry, no deportation flights have taken off under the deal struck in April 2022.

Prime Minister Sunak has vowed to press ahead with the plan.

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