Saturday, July 20, 2024

Rwanda Bill: Government suffers five defeats in House of Lords

  • By Paul Seddon
  • Political Correspondent

image source, Good pictures

image caption,

The bill is a key part of the Prime Minister's plan to “stop” small boats crossing the English Channel

The government has suffered five defeats in the House of Lords in its bill to revive its proposed Rwandan deportation programme.

The law considers Rwanda a safe country to send asylum seekers to in an effort to prevent removal through appeals.

But peers supported changes to make it easier for judges to challenge it.

They also said the extradition agreement “must be fully implemented” before the flights take off.

The bill will pass through the Lords on Wednesday, with opposition peers likely to face further defeats.

However, the government is likely to overturn these when it returns to the Commons – later this month.

The bill is a key part of the government's plan to “stop” small boats crossing the English Channel, which Rishi Sunak made a priority during his prime ministership. Ministers want flights to Rwanda to start this spring.

Ministers unveiled the draft law late last year after its plan to send an unspecified number of asylum seekers to the East African country was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court.

In a bid to revive the program and prevent legal challenges to future deportations, it says Rwanda is a safe country in UK law and will limit the courts' ability to block them on human rights grounds.

The government argues that this is a necessary step to ensure that deportations are not derailed by legal challenges.

But critics, including some conservatives, say it would put people at risk and undermine the independence of the courts.

In an earlier series of votes, opposition peers backed an amendment that would allow courts to overturn the presumption that Rwanda is safe if they find “credible evidence to the contrary”.

The amendment, proposed by crossbench peer Lord Anderson of Ipswich, was supported by a handful of Conservatives, including former Home Secretary Lord Clarke of Nottingham.

Lord Anderson added: “If Rwanda is as secure as we declare the government to be, it has nothing to fear from such an inspection”.

Peers approved the changes to ensure Rwanda is considered safe only when independent officials overseeing the UK's extradition deal with Rwanda say it is “fully implemented”.

They also supported a Labor amendment stating that the bill “must fully comply with domestic and international law”.

The 'joy' of challenges

The government says its new agreement with Rwanda, signed in December, addresses the Supreme Court's objections.

Home Office minister Lord Sharp of Epsom said the deal, which replaced an earlier deal, meant people sent to Rwanda no longer risk being sent back to their home countries where they could face persecution.

Outlining why he rejected the amendments, he said the legal grounds for challenging deportation should be “limited” to “prevent the euphoria of legal challenges”.

“Legal legal challenges cannot be allowed to continue to frustrate and delay removals,” he added.

The changes to the bill will now go back to the Commons, where the government has a majority and is likely to overturn them.

If the changes are rejected, the bill will go through a process known as “ping pong”, expected later this month, where it will go through MPs and peers until they agree on the final wording.

Labor has suggested its peers will not seek to block the bill being passed into law, despite Lord Coker, one of the party's whips, saying ministers should “listen” to objections raised in the Lords.

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