Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda asylum plan suffers setback in House of Lords

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Peers in the House of Lords have dealt a setback to Rishi Sunak’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda by voting to compel the UK government to back up its claim that the African nation is safe before ratification of a treaty between London and Kigali.

The Lords international agreements committee proposed that a new treaty signed by the UK and Rwanda not be ratified by parliament until Britain demonstrates that 10 “legal and practical steps” proving the east African nation is safe for asylum seekers have been taken by London and Kigali.

Peers voted 214 to 171 in favour of the committee’s proposal after a heated four-hour debate in the second chamber.

The vote highlights how the prime minister’s Rwanda asylum plan is expected to come under intense scrutiny in the Lords in the coming weeks.

The scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is a critical pillar of Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats” carrying migrants over the English Channel from France, and thereby convince voters that his government is taking a hard line on migration ahead of the general election.

Lord Peter Goldsmith, Labour chair of the international agreements committee, said the treaty between London and Kigali could not currently provide a basis for parliament to judge whether Rwanda is safe for asylum seekers.

“Ratification should not take place until certain conditions are met,” he added.

The treaty outlines various conditions to demonstrate that Rwanda is safe, including that Kigali has passed a new asylum law, and sets up a system for ensuring that migrants coming from Britain are not sent back to their country of origin.

The international agreements committee proposed that the treaty not be ratified by parliament until the UK government has shown the conditions have been met.

A minister is expected to respond to the committee’s proposal, but government officials said the vote in the Lords would not delay sending asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The UK Supreme Court ruled in November that the government’s scheme to send migrants to Rwanda was unlawful because there was a real risk they could be sent back to their country of origin without proper assessment of their claims.

It also pointed to “serious and systematic defects” in Rwanda’s processing of asylum claims, pointing to evidence provided by the UN that 100 per cent of the applications made by people from the war-torn countries of Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen had been rejected by the Kigali government.

Sunak responded by drawing up the treaty between London and Kigali that stipulates that anyone sent by the UK to Rwanda is given permanent leave to remain, even if their asylum application fails, and mandated the creation of an appeal body to review rejected claims, among other things.

The UK government has also separately laid legislation before parliament that would deem Rwanda a safe country and disapply some parts of British human rights law.

Sunak suffered the biggest revolt of his premiership last week when 60 Tory MPs rebelled by backing an amendment to the bill aimed at toughening up the legislation. The amendment was ultimately rejected by the House of Commons.

Although the legislation was approved by MPs at its third reading, 11 Conservatives who voted against, including former immigration minister Robert Jenrick, were summoned to meetings with Tory chief whip Simon Hart on Monday.

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