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Lords’ further defeat of Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda bill delays final vote past Easter

Lords’ further defeat of Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda bill delays final vote past Easter

Peers have inflicted a further series of defeats on Rishi Sunak’s flagship small boats bill, which would see asylum seekers deported to Rwanda.

The House of Lords voted on Wednesday night that the government’s bill should have “due regard” for international law, and that the UK’s treaty with Rwanda should be fully implemented before flights start. Peers defeated the government on all seven votes, including passing an amendment that would exempt Afghan heroes who supported British troops from deportation to Rwanda.

Labour’s Vernon Coaker told peers that the reputation of the country was at stake, stressing that it “can’t be right” that the fundamental bill exempts ministers from following international law.

Lord Coaker also berated the Tory peers for failing to update the house about when the bill would return to the Lords for further debate – with peers now believing it will not return until after Easter. This delay will push back the dates that flights will inevitably be able to take off to Rwanda.

Alex Carlile, a cross-bench peer, compared the mounting costs of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda to staying at The Ritz in Paris and added: “We’re a very long way from being satisfied that Rwanda is a safe country.”

Rishi Sunak was told it was a ‘moral imperative’ that Afghan heroes who supported British troops should not be deported to Rwanda (PA)
Rishi Sunak was told it was a ‘moral imperative’ that Afghan heroes who supported British troops should not be deported to Rwanda (PA)

Government law officer Lord Stewart of Dirleton has argued criticism of the Tory administration over the Rwanda bill was “fundamentally misconceived”.

He said: “We cannot allow people to make such dangerous crossings and we must do what we can to prevent any more lives from being lost at sea.”

Ken Clarke, Tory peer and former chancellor, was the sole Conservative peer to rebel against his government in the votes two and three, which were for comparatively small changes to the bill that would force the greater scrutiny of Rwanda’s preparations ahead of flights.

Peers also voted in favour of a Labour backbench amendment from Baroness Lister of Burtersett to require age assessments for those facing removal to Rwanda to be conducted by local authorities. They also voted in favour of restoring the jurisdiction of the domestic courts over the bill.

In response to an amendment that aims to safeguard Afghan heroes who helped the UK, the government told peers on Wednesday evening that they would consider exempting members of the Afghan special forces from deportation from the UK.

The Independent first revealed that members of the Afghan special forces, known as the Triples, who fought alongside British troops had been wrongly denied help by the Ministry of Defence.

A review is currently being undertaken into the relocation decisions made for this cohort, a handful of whom have made it to the UK via small boat.

While the Illegal Migration Act compels ministers to remove those who have arrived to the UK on a small boat from the country, Tory peers told the Lords that certain groups can be exempted from the affects of the act.

This will be of comfort to those Afghan special forces who are deemed eligible under the Ministry of Defence’s new review of relocation decisions, however there is still a fear that those who supported UK troops could again be found ineligible for help.

Labour’s Des Browne put forward an amendment to the Rwanda bill to exempt Afghans who worked alongside British troops (PA)
Labour’s Des Browne put forward an amendment to the Rwanda bill to exempt Afghans who worked alongside British troops (PA)

Des Browne, who put forward the armed forces amendment, told the Lords: “We are told that many, who have braved death, injury and are forced into exile as a result of assisting our armed forces in fighting the Taliban, are to be punished for arriving here by irregular routes.

“Even when owing to wrongful refusals on our part or possible malfeasance on the part of the special forces, that compelled them to take these routes in the first place.”

Lord Browne said there were a number of Afghans in Afghanistan and Pakistan waiting on review decisions, but “a much smaller number, which the amendment seeks to protect, who are already here”.

He continued: “They were compelled to seek irregular routes, or face certain death or torture.

“For the last year The Independent, Lighthouse Reports and Sky, have been exposing cases where owing to [government] errors and alleged interference by UK special forces, Afghans who served alongside either with the Triples, or otherwise alongside our armed forces, wrongly were denied the ability to relocate and were forced to arrive here by other means.”

Lord Browne said the government should not make promises about future exemptions but rather pass the amendment in front of them that would achieve similar aims.

He questioned whether Afghans who had been failed by the Ministry of Defence could trust “the same people who wrongly refused their relocation visas in the first place”.

This amendment was passed by the Lords with a majority of 39.

MPs on Monday night overturned all 10 amendments to the Safety of Rwanda Bill, including an attempt by peers to prevent age-disputed children from being sent to Rwanda.

The Home Office has already identified 150 migrants for the first two deportation flights. The bill will now return to the House of Commons for further scrutiny from MPs.