The government's Rwanda deportation plan, spearheaded by Rishi Sunak, is encountering challenges in the House of Lords. Peers are making moves to impede the progress of the controversial bill, with former Labour attorney general Peter Goldsmith leading a motion seeking to delay the ratification of the new Rwanda treaty. The international agreements committee, chaired by Lord Goldsmith, insists on specific measures, including an improved complaints process and guarantees of safety, before endorsing the treaty. A separate challenge by the Liberal Democrats involves presenting a "fatal motion," claiming the plan violates international law and wastes taxpayer money. The outcome could significantly impact the future of the Rwanda plan and its implementation.
Rishi Sunak is poised for a potential setback in the House of Lords this week regarding his controversial deportation plan to Rwanda, as members of the upper house prepare various efforts to impede its progress through parliament.
The initial challenge is expected on Monday when peers discuss a motion presented by former Labour attorney general Peter Goldsmith. This motion aims to postpone the approval of the new Rwanda treaty until the government can demonstrate the safety of the country.
According to the international agreements committee, chaired by Lord Goldsmith and comprising four Conservative members, certain measures must be implemented before endorsing the treaty. These measures include an enhanced complaints process, training for Rwandan officials, and a new asylum law ensuring individuals will not be sent back to countries where they might face danger.
Any proposed changes must also be allowed sufficient time to become established and prove their effectiveness in practical terms. Lord Goldsmith emphasized that once the government furnishes additional evidence, there should be an additional debate before progressing to the ratification process.
Peers are set to discuss the motion tomorrow, providing the prime minister with an initial gauge of the opposition the Rwanda plan might encounter in the House of Lords. The motion is anticipated to garner support from Labour, the Lib Dems, as well as crossbench peers, and possibly some within the "one nation" faction of the Conservative party.
In November of the previous year, the UK supreme court unanimously declared the government's Rwanda plan unlawful, citing violations of the European Convention on Human Rights as it could expose genuine refugees to harm in their home countries. The ruling also raised concerns about Rwanda's poor human rights record.
Subsequently, a treaty was signed between the UK and Rwanda in which commitments were made to address safety concerns. However, parliamentary ratification is required for the treaty to take effect.
The government has also introduced a new bill, which is now advancing to the House of Lords after facing challenges in the Commons last week. This bill aims to legally affirm that Rwanda is a safe destination. Labour has criticized the entire plan as a "farce" and a "gimmick," leading to the resignation of three Conservative frontbenchers who deemed it insufficiently robust.
If the Goldsmith motion succeeds and is accepted by ministers, it could potentially postpone the treaty for several months, jeopardizing Rishi Sunak's plans to initiate flights to Rwanda and putting him in a precarious position ahead of a general election. Ignoring the motion would require ministers to provide explanations, and it could work against them in future legal challenges.
In a distinct effort to hinder the Rwanda plan, the Liberal Democrats are poised to initiate a challenge against the Rwanda bill, aiming to permanently halt its progression through parliament. Lib Dem peers plan to present a "fatal motion" asserting that the current proposal to deport certain asylum seekers to Rwanda violates international law and would squander millions of pounds of taxpayers' money that could be more effectively utilized for public services.
Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, remarked, "After millions of pounds and months of disputes, there is still nothing to show for the failing Rwanda scheme. Our nation cannot afford to continue wasting time on a plan that even senior Conservatives acknowledge is unlikely to succeed."
For the motion to succeed, it would require support from Labour and crossbench peers. If approved, it would block the Rwanda bill from advancing to a second reading in the upper chamber. While fatal motions are not commonly successful, if this one were to be, it could compel the government to reconsider its approach.
Initially introduced in April 2022, the government's Rwanda initiative aims to redirect certain asylum seekers who arrive in the UK to Rwanda for the processing of their claims.
In anticipation of potential challenges, Rishi Sunak, during a press conference at Downing Street on Thursday, urged peers not to impede what he referred to as "the will of the people." Sunak stated, "The treaty with Rwanda is signed, and the legislation designating Rwanda as a safe country has been passed without amendments in our elected chamber. The sole question now is whether the opposition in the appointed House of Lords will attempt to obstruct the will of the people as expressed by the elected house, or will they align themselves with the right course of action?"
According to recent YouGov polling, approximately 77% of Conservative voters support the Rwanda plan, while only 20% of Labour voters and around 48% of the overall British population express support for it.