'We can do better': Rwanda plan clears first Lords hurdle as Archbishop of Canterbury issues warning

The Archbishop of Canterbury launched a scathing rebuke to Rishi Sunak's "damaging" Rwanda deportation plan

The Archbishop of Canterbury launched a withering rebuke to Rishi Sunak's "damaging" Rwanda deportation plan as the bill passes its its first major hurdle in the House of Lords.

It came before peers have voted 206 to 84, majority 122, against a motion designed to block the government’s Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill.

After the Lib Dem-sponsored bid to halt the Bill was rejected, peers gave it a second reading on the nod without the House dividing for a second vote.

It comes after the Most Rev Justin Welby's impassioned speech, aimed at the scheme which seeks to send asylum seekers who cross the Channel in small boats on a one-way flight to Kigali.

Mr Welby accused the government of outsourcing the country’s “legal and moral responsibilities”. The cleric also argued “a pick-and-choose approach to international law” undermined the UK’s global standing as he signalled he may seek to block the policy at a later date.

The archbishop was was among some 66 members of the House of Lords listed to speak during the second reading debate of the Bill. The controversial draft legislation seeks to address the legal challenges which have dogged the plan and gives ministers the power to ignore emergency injunctions.

Mr Welby said: “We can, as a nation, do better than this Bill. “With this Bill the government is continuing to seek good objectives in the wrong way, leading the nation down a damaging path.” He added: “We need a wider strategy for refugee policy which involves international co-operation and which equips us for the far greater migration flows, perhaps ten times greater in the coming decades, as a result of conflict and climate change and poverty. Instead this Bill offers only ad hoc one-off approaches. “Rwanda is a country I know well, it is a wonderful country and my complaint is not with Rwanda, nor with its people. It has overcome challenges that this House cannot begin to imagine. “But this Bill continues, wherever it does it, to outsource our legal and moral responsibilities for refugees and asylum seekers, with other countries far poorer already supporting multitudes more than we are now and to cut back on our aid.” He said: “The UK should lead internationally as it has in the past, not stand apart.

The Rwanda policy is seen as key to Rishi Sunak’s pledge to ‘stop the boats’ Credit: James Manning/PA

“A pick-and-choose approach to international law undermines our global standing and offends against the principle of universality that is their increasingly threatened foundation.” Given the Lords was a revising chamber, Mr Welby said “sadly” he would not back a Liberal Democrat-led move to block the Bill at second reading, although he found the argument made for it “convincing and powerful”. He pointedly added: “But I think we have to wait until third reading and have done our revising work.” Opening the debate, Tory frontbencher Lord Stewart of Dirleton said: “This government remains resolute in its commitment to preventing the misuse and evasion of our systems by illegal migrants, stopping these dangerous crossings and addressing the concerns of the British people. “Operationalising the Rwanda scheme is a key part of the government’s efforts to deliver this mission.” He added: “Doing nothing is not an option.”

Where does the Rwanda Bill currently stand?

Mr Sunak’s Safety of Rwanda Bill survived third reading in the Commons after the prime minister saw off a rebellion by the Tory right which had sought to toughen the legislation. In the end just 11 Conservatives voted against the legislation but it faces a bigger test in the Lords, where many members have expressed unease about the plan.

First blood was drawn against the Rwanda policy in the Lords last week, when peers backed by 214 votes to 171 an unprecedented move seeking to delay a treaty with the country which underpins the government’s plan.

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