Sunak’s Rwanda Plan Suffers First Setback in House of Lords

(Bloomberg) -- Britain’s upper house voted to delay a controversial plan to send migrants to Rwanda, in a decision likely to anger right-wing members of the Conservative Party and threaten Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s vow to have planes leaving for the African nation by spring.

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The House of Lords voted 214-171 for a motion from Labour peer Peter Goldsmith, chairman of the chamber’s International Agreements Committee, to delay the treaty. The vote was not on the bill itself, but on a report by the committee, which identified areas where “significant additional legal and practical steps are needed in order to implement the protections the treaty is designed to provide,” according to Goldsmith.

Earlier in the day the prime minister’s spokesman, Max Blain, insisted to journalists that a vote for the motion would not prevent flights taking off carrying migrants to Rwanda “in the spring.” The government will now have to prepare a statement on why it has chosen to ignore the Lords’ recommendation.

The vote comes after Sunak last week warned the unelected House of Lords to pass the government’s Rwanda deportation bill and enact the “will of the people,” despite the plan failing to appear in the Tories’ last manifesto in 2019. The bill itself will face its first major challenge in the House of Lords next week

But Labour’s Vernon Coaker hit back on Monday, saying: “Nobody, not least the Prime Minister, should hold press conferences lecturing us about what our role is, when all we seek to do is to improve it and to act in our proper constitutional role.”

The UK’s Supreme Court also ruled last year that the treaty is unlawful. Sunak has since amended the agreement in an attempt to allay those concerns, introducing “safeguards,” but the Lords committee report said its efforts were incomplete.

“The measures are not in place and have not been shown to be effective,” said Goldsmith, a former attorney general.

Sunak is under pressure from the right of his party to reduce migrant numbers, after pledging to “stop the boats” carrying asylum seekers across the English Channel. He averted a major rebellion during a vote on the Rwanda treaty from MPs who thought the deal does not go far enough.

Liberal Democrat frontbencher Chris Fox said: “There is more than enough reason to delay the ratification of the treaty until the conditions for its lawful operation are actually in place.”

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