Rwanda plan could fail first test in Lords as peers move to thwart Sunak’s bill | Rwanda


Motion seeks to delay ratification of treaty until government can show that destination country is safe

Sun 21 Jan 2024 07.00 CET

Rishi Sunak is facing a possible defeat in the House of Lords this week over his controversial Rwanda deportation plan as peers prepare multiple bids to thwart its progress through parliament.

The first test will come on Monday when peers debate a motion laid by former Labour attorney general Peter Goldsmith, which seeks to delay the ratification of the new Rwanda treaty until the government can show the country is safe.

The international agreements committee, which is chaired by Lord Goldsmith and has four Conservative members, says that measures including an improved complaints process, training for Rwandan officials and a new asylum law guaranteeing people will not be returned to countries where they could be in danger must be in place before the treaty can be endorsed.

Any such changes would also need to be given time to “bed in” to ensure they work in practice. Once the government had supplied further evidence, it should then allow for a further debate before proceeding to ratification, Lord Goldsmith has said.

The motion will be debated by peers tomorrow, giving the prime minister a first indication of the extent of the opposition the Rwanda plan will face in the Lords. The motion is expected to receive support from Labour and the Lib Dems, as well as crossbench peers and potentially some on the “one nation” wing of the Conservative party.

In November last year, the UK supreme court ruled unanimously that the government’s Rwanda plan was unlawful, saying it breached the European convention on human rights as genuine refugees could be returned to their home countries where they might face harm. Its ruling also cited concerns about Rwanda’s poor record on human rights.

A few weeks later, the UK signed a treaty with Rwanda in which it agreed to address the safety concerns. The treaty needs to be ratified by parliament to come into effect.

The government also introduced a new bill, which is now heading into the House of Lords after a torrid passage last week through the Commons, which seeks to make clear in law that Rwanda is safe. Labour has called the entire plan a “farce” and a “gimmick”. Last week, three Conservatives frontbenchers resigned saying it was not tough enough.

Should the Goldsmith motion succeed and ministers accept it, it could delay the treaty for months and push back Rishi Sunak’s plans to start flights to Rwanda, putting him in a perilous position ahead of a general election. If ministers were to ignore it they would be required to explain why and could see it go against them in legal challenges further down the line.

In a separate bid to thwart the Rwanda plan, the Liberal Democrats are also set to launch a challenge on the Rwanda bill which will seek to kill off its passage through parliament for good. Lib Dem peers are set to table a “fatal motion” which will say that the current plan to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda breaches international law and will waste millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money that could be better spent on public services.

The Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said: “Millions of pounds and months of squabbling later, there is still absolutely nothing to show for their failing Rwanda scheme. Our country cannot afford to waste any more time on a scheme that even senior Conservatives admit won’t work.”

To be successful, the motion would need to be backed by Labour and cross-bench peers. If passed, it would prevent the Rwanda bill receiving a second reading in the upper chamber. Fatal motions are not often successful but if it were to be, it could force the government back to the drawing board.

Initially announced in April 2022, the government’s Rwanda plan aims to send some asylum seekers arriving in the UK to Rwanda to have their claims processed there.

Anticipating further turmoil in a Downing Street press conference on Thursday, Rishi Sunak urged peers not to “frustrate” what he called “the will of the people”. “The treaty with Rwanda is signed and the legislation which deems Rwanda a safe country has been passed unamended in our elected chamber. There is now only one question: will the opposition in the appointed House of Lords try and frustrate the will of the people as expressed by the elected house? Or will they get on board and do the right thing?” he said.

Recent polling by YouGov suggests about 77% of Conservative voters support the Rwanda plan compared with 20% of Labour voters and about 48% of Britons overall.

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