UK parliament's upper house delays Rwanda migrants plan again

Wednesday April 17 2024

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. PHOTO | REUTERS


Britain's upper house of parliament again defeated Rishi Sunak's plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda on Tuesday, proposing changes that will delay but not block a policy the prime minister hopes could help change his party's electoral fortunes.

Sunak has invested huge political capital in the Rwanda scheme before an election later this year he is predicted to lose, saying it will help meet his pledge to stop thousands of people arriving in Britain without permission in small boats.

The House of Lords, Britain's unelected upper house, for a third time sought to make changes to the new legislation after the House of Commons lower house of parliament rejected its second set of proposals on Monday.

But the move is unlikely to stop the legislation from getting approval this week, meaning it will become law. Sunak hopes to start flights to Rwanda as soon as possible, but the scheme might still be challenged in the courts.

Read: UK, Rwanda eye first migrant deportation flights in weeks

The House of Lords voted in favour of four proposals, including an amendment to insist the legislation complies with international law.


The legislation will now return to the House of Commons on Wednesday when Conservative lawmakers are expected to vote against the proposed changes. The upper chamber might then decide it has failed in convincing elected lawmakers to make any changes and decide to pass it.

Under the policy formulated two years ago, any asylum seeker who arrives illegally in Britain will be sent to the nation to try to deter dangerous Channel crossings in small boats and smash the people smugglers' business model.

The first planned deportation flight in June 2022 was blocked by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), before the UK Supreme Court last year declared the scheme unlawful.

Sunak's new law, which disapplies some existing human rights statutes, is designed to override the Supreme Court's ruling by stating Rwanda must be treated by British judges as a safe destination, as well as also limiting individuals' options for an appeal to only exceptional cases.

For critics, including senior figures in his own party and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the policy is immoral, unworkable and probably breaches international law. But some right-wing Conservative lawmakers say it will not work because it is still not tough enough.