House of Lords puts the brakes on Prime Minister’s Rwanda deportation plans

The UK Prime Minister has received a major setback from the House of Lords to the ratification of his Rwanda ‘Asylum and Immigration Bill’ after a motion in the House of Lords on Wednesday evening 22nd January, received 214 votes in support of a delay to allow more time for scrutiny. The support for the bill, tabled by the Labour peer, Lord Peter Goldsmith QC, chairman of the House of Lords International Agreements Committee (IAC) and formerly an Attorney General in the Blair government, outnumbered the 171 members who voted against the motion and in support of the Rwanda bill as it stands.

Kicked into the long grass

The Motion, was meant to be largely symbolic and to simply challenge the government’s position that Rwanda was a safe place – effectively recognising the Supreme Court’s judgement made in November last year, that it wasn’t. It sought to seek clarifications and assurances that necessary measures had been taken to ensure Rwanda met fundamental safety thresholds, before the bill was finally implemented. The result of the motion however, is a lot more than symbolic, as it is likely to ensure that the bill will, as some pundits have put it, ‘be kicked into the long grass’ and will make sure that no deportation flights to Rwanda actually take off before a General Election. Lord Goldsmith argued that:

‘Significant additional legal and practical steps were needed in order to implement the protections the treaty is designed to provide’.

The Lords is ‘being asked to make a judgement, based on the Agreement, about whether Rwanda is safe’’

His motion read:

‘Lord Goldsmith moved that this House resolves, in accordance with section 20 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, that His Majesty’s Government should not ratify the UK-Rwanda Agreement on an Asylum Partnership until the protections it provides have been fully implemented, since Parliament is being asked to make a judgement, based on the Agreement, about whether Rwanda is safe’

Sunak: The Lords must not frustrate ‘the will of the people’

The success of the motion and the size of the support for it, represents a slap in the face to the UK Prime Minister’s appeal made last Thursday in a press conference, at which he urged the House of Lords not to block the bill which would prevent crucial deportation flights taking off and would hamper his fight against ‘people smugglers’. He said that the Lords must not frustrate ‘the will of the people’.

At Thursday’s press conference, which hailed the victory of the parliamentary vote the night before, the Prime Minister pressed home the idea that his party, the Conservative Party, had shown unity in supporting his bill and that it was important he said, to ‘stick to the plan’, which he emphasised was working. Speaking to journalists, he said:

‘The House of Lords must pass this bill. It’s time to take back control of our borders and defeat the people smugglers. It’s time to restore people’s trust that the system is fair. I think it’s incumbent now on the House of Lords to recognise that, to pass this legislation unamended, as quickly as possible, so that we can then start getting flights up and running’

Outrage on the right of the Conservative Party

Needless to say, parliamentarians on the right of the Conservative Party have expressed outrage at the delay caused by the motion, with some members suggesting that Conservative peers who voted in support of the motion should lose the party whip. UKIP founder Nigel Farage, was unequivocal in his disquiet. He said:

‘We must sack all current members of the House of Lords’

There were many peers who took exception to being lectured by the Prime Minister and other House of Commons supporters of the bill.  Lord Vernon Coaker, a Labour frontbench member, articulated the disquiet felt by many, when he insisted that peers were simply fulfilling their constitutional role in scrutinising the Rwanda Treaty.

I come not to bury, but to amend the bill

Lord Peter Goldsmith made clear that his motion was not meant to trash the bill. He said:

‘We are not saying the treaty should never be ratified but we are saying that Parliament should have the opportunity to scrutinise the treaty and its implementing measures in full before it makes a judgement about Rwanda is safe’

Liberal Democrat, Lord Razell said:

‘If we go back to the beginning, the whole reason for the proposal to send people to Rwanda was that it was going to be such a hellhole that nobody would want to get on a boat if they thought they were going to go to Rwanda…The dilemma the Government now faces is that, because of the Supreme Court, they have to demonstrate what a wonderful, safe place Rwanda is. I wonder whether this might just be a moment for them to reflect on the purpose of their policy’

The House of Lords has tabled a second reading of the Rwanda Bill for January 29th and it is not expected that the government will be able to achieve the same success as it did in the House of Commons, to win over sufficient support to see the bill successfully through the lobby.


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