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Rwanda bill ‘not fit for purpose’

Lords slam 'legal fiction' as they inflict first defeat on cruel Tory plan for asylum-seekers, decision comes day after seven-year-old girl tragically drowns in Channel

PEERS inflicted their first defeat against PM Rishi Sunak’s proposed Rwanda asylum law today — putting the House of Lords on a collision course with the government.

The upper chamber backed by 274 votes to 172, majority 102, a move to ensure the draft legislation, aimed at clearing the way to send asylum-seekers who cross the Channel in small boats on a one-way flight to Kigali, is fully compliant with the law.

The heavy government defeat sets the stage for an extended tussle between the Commons and Lords during “ping-pong,” where legislation is batted between the two houses until agreement is reached.

Peers slammed the government’s assertion that the east African country is safe to send migrants in contrary to a Supreme Court ruling.

Just a day after a seven-year-old drowned trying to cross the Channel into Britain, members continued to vote on a series of amendments to the flagship “stop the boats” policy as the Star went to press.  

Tory peer Lord Tugendhat, whose nephew is Security Minister Tom Tugendhat, said: “This country is no dictatorship, it is a democracy.

“If this Bill goes onto the statute book in its present form, Rwanda will be a safe country regardless of reality until the statute is repealed.”

Former Lord Speaker Baroness D’Souza branded the emergency legislation a “legal fiction.”

The independent cross-bench peer said it is “writing into law a demonstrably false statement that Rwanda is a safe country to receive asylum-seekers and thereby forcing all courts to treat Rwanda as a safe country, despite clear findings of fact.”

Former shadow attorney general Baroness Chakrabarti, who brought the supported amendment, told peers that Labour is calling for changes to the Bill that would ensure compliance with the rule of law.

She argued this must be “completely incontrovertible for those like the Prime Minister, who now claim to be liberal patriots.”

Her amendment to make the government present “actual evidence of rule implementation of the Rwanda Treaty (requiring adherence to international human rights laws)” to Parliament was backed by the Conservative Viscount Hailsham, who said the Bill would fail to deter “illegal migration across the Channel.”

Green Party peer Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, however, said the House of Lords debate was in vain as the government “will not listen,” blaming the Labour front bench for preventing peers from stopping the “foolish” Bill.

Lady Jones said: “It’s pointless chatter because whatever we say the government will not listen to us and this is partly fuelled by the Labour front bench who seem to be rewriting the Salisbury Convention — the Salisbury convention being, we do not try to stop anything in the government’s manifesto.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, said: “The government is challenging the right of international law to constrain our actions.

“And the point of international law is to stop governments going ahead with things that are wrong.”

Conservative former minister Kenneth Clarke said he hopes there would be a legal challenge to the Safety of Rwanda Bill if the “Labour Party allow this Bill to go through.”

The tragic seven-year-old was among more than 300 migrants arrived in Britain after crossing the Channel on Sunday.

She had been travelling with her pregnant mother, her father and three siblings in a boat carrying 16 people when she died after it capsized, according to the French coastguard.

The Prefet du Nord said another couple, two men and six young children were also onboard when the boat got into difficulty in the early hours of the morning off the French coast.

Sabby Dhalu, of Stand Up to Racism, said: “The so-called Safety of Rwanda Bill is not going to stop Channel crossings by asylum-seekers.

“The only viable solution is to implement safe routes for asylum-seekers, allow them to arrive here safely to apply for asylum, ensure applications are processed effectively and efficiently.”

Nicola David, founder of One Life to Live, added: “This Bill is indescribably bonkers: it should never have seen the light of day.

“Rwanda has a history of shooting and killing refugees — how can we possibly declare it to be safe?”

Refugee charity Care4Calais CEO Steve Smith said: “The tragic loss of a seven-year-old girl over the weekend, coming days after the loss of another three refugees in the English Channel last week, is a sharp reminder that the government’s hostile environment costs lives.

“The Rwanda plan will do nothing to stop Channel crossings. All it is doing is inflicting more trauma and misery on people who have already survived horrors such as war, torture and persecution. The Supreme Court was clear, Rwanda is not a safe country to send refugees to, and the Lords should respect the Supreme Court’s judgement and reject the government’s brutal policy.”

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