Government's Rwanda bill suffers biggest defeat yet in Lords

Mr Sunak pledged to 'stop the boats' as part of his five promises at the beginning of last year. Credit: PA

Rishi Sunak has suffered five defeats in the House of Lords over his Rwanda bill - the biggest string of setbacks to the new asylum law, which was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court, yet.

The defeats over complying with international law and guarantees that Rwanda is safe will almost certainly be overturned in the Commons but they could push back the start date for the flights.

The government has previously promised the first flights to the country will happen "in the spring", with "stopping the boats" a key pledge of Mr Sunak's premiership.

The five defeats don't kill the bill entirely, but they do set in motion a parliamentary ping-pong where the bill goes between the House of Lords and House of Commons until an agreement is reached.

The first defeat

The Rwanda bill suffered its first defeat in the House of Lords, as peers backed an amendment which calls for the legislation to comply with domestic and international law.

The Lords voted in favour of the amendment put forward by Labour Lord Coaker, which adds a line to the bill saying it will maintain "full compliance with domestic and international law".

The amendment was backed by 274 votes to 172.

The second defeat

The Lords backed, by 282 to 180, majority 102, a demand that Parliament cannot declare Rwanda to be a safe country until the treaty with its promised safeguards is fully implemented.

The third defeat

The government suffered its third defeat of the day in the House of Lords when peers voted by 277 votes to 167, majority 110, in favour of establishing a monitoring mechanism able to determine whether the safeguards in the UK-Rwanda Treaty have been, and continue to be, fully implemented.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has vowed to ‘stop the boats’ Credit: James Manning/PA

The fourth defeat

In a further blow to the government, a proposed change to the legislation that would allow the presumption that Rwanda is safe to be challenged in the courts was backed by 258 votes to 171, majority 87.

The fifth defeat

A short time later, a similar consequential amendment also went through by 260 votes to 169, majority 91, bringing the total number of government defeats to five.

'Frustrating the will of the people'

This line of government defeat sets the stage for an extended tussle between the Commons and Lords during “ping-pong”, where legislation is batted between the two Houses until agreement is reached.

The Lords can't block or vote down legislation, but it can encourage the government to think again, encouraging it to compromise where there is disagreement between the two chambers.

The prime minister has previously warned the Lords against frustrating “the will of the people” by hampering the passage of his Bill, which has already been approved by MPs.

After the Supreme Court ruled Rwanda was not safe, the government agreed a new treaty with Rwanda and put forward the controversial draft legislation, to try and prevent further legal challenges to the scheme.

As well as compelling judges to regard the east African country as safe, it would also give ministers the power to ignore emergency injunctions.

Many MPs, Lords and human rights organisations are concerned the new draft Bill will breach international law, while some right-wing Tories think the Bill doesn't go far enough.

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Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has said the proposed Rwanda legislation was “fundamentally incompatible” with the UK’s human rights obligations and would flout international law.

Separately, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has warned the Bill risks the UK breaching its obligations under international law.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, pointed out international human rights law had grown out of the horrors committed by Nazi Germany, where in 1933 a government that “had been legally and properly elected, passed horrific laws that did terrible things”.

He added: “We are not in any situation remotely like that, let’s be clear. The Government is not doing something on the scale of what we saw at that stage.

“But the government is challenging the right of international law to constrain our actions. And the point of international law is to stop governments going ahead with things that are wrong.”

Tory peer Lord Tugendhat, whose nephew is security minister Tom Tugendhat, accused the government of behaving like the ruling party in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, in its move to legislate that Rwanda was safe.

He said: “If this Bill goes onto the statute book in its present form, Rwanda will be a safe country regardless of reality until the statute is repealed.”

The Rwanda Bill survived a significant Commons hurdle in January after fears Tory MPs would rebel in large numbers against it.

Former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick resigned last year over the Bill, and former Deputy Chairmen Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith also stepped down after backing amendments to beef up the Bill.

In Home Office migration data released last week, figures showed 15 people who came from Rwanda were granted asylum in the UK.

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