Rwanda Bill: The government suffers five defeats in the House of Lords

  • Written by Paul Seddon
  • Politics reporter

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

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

The legislation would deem Rwanda a safe country to send asylum seekers to, in an attempt to stop deportations being derailed by appeals.

But their peers supported changes that would make it easier for judges to challenge the order.

They also said the treaty underpinning the deportations must be “fully implemented” before flights take off.

The bill will continue to move through the House of Lords on Wednesday, where opposition peers may be able to inflict further defeats.

However, the government is likely to repeal these laws when it returns to the House of Commons – likely later this month.

The bill is a key part of the government's plan to “ban” small boats from crossing the English Channel, which Rishi Sunak has made a priority of his premiership. Ministers want flights to Rwanda to begin this spring.

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

In a bid to revive the scheme and prevent legal challenges holding up future deportations, it will argue that Rwanda is a safe country in UK law and restrict the courts' ability to block it on human rights grounds.

The government says this is a necessary step to ensure deportations are not hampered by legal challenges.

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

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

The amendment, proposed by Lord Anderson of Ipswich, also had the support of a handful of Conservatives, including former Home Secretary Lord Clarke of Nottingham.

Lord Anderson added: “If Rwanda is as safe as the government wants us to say, it has nothing to fear from such scrutiny.”

Their peers also agreed changes that will mean Rwanda can only be considered safe when independent officials overseeing the UK's deportation treaty with the country say it has been “fully implemented”.

They also supported Labour's amendment stating that the bill must maintain “full compliance with domestic and international law”.

A “fun round” of challenges

The government says its new treaty with Rwanda, signed in December, addresses Supreme Court objections.

Home Secretary Lord Sharpe, of Epsom, said the treaty, which replaced an earlier agreement, would mean there was no risk of people sent to Rwanda being sent back to their home countries, where they could face persecution.

Explaining why he rejected the amendments, he said legal grounds for challenging deportations should remain “limited” in order to “prevent a spiral of legal challenges.”

“We cannot allow systemic legal challenges to continue to frustrate and delay removals,” he added.

The changes to the bill will now go back to the House of 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, when it will be passed between MPs and their peers so they can agree on the final wording.

Labor has indicated that its peers will not seek to block the bill from being fully passed into law, although one of the party's members, Lord Coker, said ministers should “listen” to objections raised in the House of Lords.

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