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Rwanda bill: Government and Lords face another voting showdown

Written by on April 22, 2024

Rishi Sunak insists his policy to process asylum seekers in Rwanda will become law, even if it means MPs sitting late into the night to pass it.

There has been a prolonged stand-off over the bill between the two Houses of Parliament over the past four months.

The Lords have consistently blocked and amended the bill – and the Commons will vote on the amended version later.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will hold a news conference later where he is expected to talk about his plan.

On Friday the PM said there would be no more delays, adding: “We will sit there and vote until it’s done.”

The government’s planned legislation would drastically limit the grounds for legal challenges to its scheme to fly asylum seekers out to Rwanda, and make it easier to remove refugees who have arrived in the UK by illegal means – and has already been approved by the House of Commons on several occasions.

The most recent was last Wednesday, but the House of Lords blocked its passage into law by demanding changes to the bill, including an amendment that would exempt asylum seekers from Afghanistan, who had previously assisted British troops when the military was stationed there, from being among those forced to fly out to Rwanda.

They also said that flights should not take off until a committee of experts set up to monitor the scheme decides Rwanda has fulfilled certain safeguards.

Peers want their two amendments added to the bill before they will ratify it, which is required before the government can pass it into law. MPs will vote on the bill and its amendments from the Lords on Monday afternoon.

This ping pong between the two Houses of Parliament could go on until either the government concedes and makes concessions, or peers give up on their suggested amendments.

The Safety of Rwanda Bill is what Mr Sunak called “emergency legislation” and, if implemented, he says would make it easier to keep his pledge to “stop the boats” – because the government says the prospect would be an effective deterrent for people who cross the Channel in small boats.

Effectively, the legislation would drastically limit the grounds for legal challenges to the Rwanda scheme and it gives ministers the power to disregard some human rights law.

The scheme was first introduced on 14 April 2022 by then-prime minister Boris Johnson, but no asylum seeker has yet been sent to Rwanda – a landlocked country central Africa – 4,000 miles (6,500km) from the UK.

Mr Sunak then took on the scheme when he became prime minister, after Liz Truss’ short tenure, in October 2022.

The first flight was scheduled to go in June 2022, but was cancelled after legal challenges.

Further obstruction came in November 2023, when the UK Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Rwanda scheme was unlawful.

After the Supreme Court ruling, the government introduced then this Safety of Rwanda bill, which aims to make clear in UK law that Rwanda is a safe country.

Critics say the scheme will put people at risk, and the legislation undermines the independence of the courts.

The back-and-forth between the House of Lords and the House of Commons over the past four months prompted Mr Sunak’s declaration that he will require the two Houses to keep repeating the process until there is a breakthrough.

Lord Carlile, a member of the House of Lords who opposes the Rwanda plan, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he and his fellow peers would “keep going as long as necessary” and not back down over their amendments.

He said Rwanda had “not yet complied with the treaty” it signed with the UK, referring to the UK-Rwanda treaty signed in December. The treaty is central to the government’s plan, but is separate to the Rwanda Safety Bill. It was drafted in response to the Supreme Court ruling and aims to ensure further protections for asylum seekers.

Lord Carlile added: “When [the treaty] is complied with, we will say: ‘OK, we concede that people should go to Rwanda though it wouldn’t be our first choice.’

“The government has failed to insist on Rwanda complying with the treaty.”

Former home secretary Suella Braverman told the Today programme the bill had “too many loopholes” which would prevent it from having the “deterrent effect that is necessary to break the people smuggling gangs”.

And she said it was vulnerable to “last-minute injunctions” by the European Court of Human Rights, adding: “The simple fact is this is our third act of Parliament that the government has introduced in four years to stop the boats.”

Home Secretary James Cleverly has previously said the treaty would ensure people relocated to Rwanda are not at risk of being returned to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened.

The post Rwanda bill: Government and Lords face another voting showdown appeared first on The Namibian.

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