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Rishi Sunak Warns House Of Lords Against Opposing His Rwanda Bill

Rishi Sunak address reporters in Downing Street on Thursday morning (Alamy)

4 min read

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has sought to pre-emptively shift blame over risks his Rwanda Bill still faces, warning the House of Lords against opposing the legislation, which has already sparked divisions in the Commons.

The government's Rwanda Bill cleared its latest House of Commons vote after threats of a major Conservative backbench rebellion turned out to be empty, with only 11 Tory MPs on the right of the party rebelling at the third reading. The legislation was approved by a comfortable House of Commons majority.

However, the challenges for the government in passing through the legislation and enacting it are far from over, with the bill next due to face heavy scrutiny in the House of Lords

The Prime Minister called a press conference on Thursday morning, in which he started in which he fired warning shots at the Lords and implored peers to back the legislation when it passes through the Upper House.

Sunak was keen to portray the Bill passing through the Commons as a victory for the government, but indicated he was aware that the legislation still had a number of significant obstacles in its way – specifically singling out the Lords, with many peers already having been vocal in their views that the Bill could be ineffective and inhumane.

"There is now only one question: Will the opposition in the appointed House of Lords try and frustrate the will of the people as expressed by the elected House?" Sunak said.

"Or will they get on board and do the right thing? It's as simple as that."

He said that the government wanted to "stick to our plan" and that it was therefore crucial that the Lords support it.

"It's time to take back control of our borders and defeat the people smugglers. It's time to restore people's trust that the system is fair," he said.

However, Labour peer Baroness Shami Chakrabarti insisted the Lords were an important part of the democratic process and the rule of law.

“I’m not convinced by his will of the people argument because we still live in a constitutional democracy built on the rule of law," she told PoliticsHome.

“It’s particularly important that the unelected but independent second chamber stands up for the rule of law. And across the House of Lords, across the parties and the groupings, in the House of Lords [...] there are many people who really care about the rule of law.”

A non-affiliated peer agreed with Chakrabarti that the Lords would ensure the rule of law was upheld.

"It’s not clear to me that the so-called 'will of the people' is to send all asylum seekers (who arrive by irregular means) to Rwanda and keep them there, even if their asylum claim is valid," they said.

"Whatever the 'will of the people' is, it has to be achieved within the rule of law, both domestically and internationally. Our role in the Lords is to ensure the rule of law is upheld."

Another Labour peer told PoliticsHome they expected their position to "amend rather than block" – the usual approach taken by Labour with any legislation in the Lords.

The Green Party's Baroness Jenny Jones simply said: "He can ask what he likes. We understand the law."

Sunak also said that he believed that if Labour were in government, they would not prioritise "stopping the boats".

"They may talk the talk, but they have no plan," he said.

"If they were in charge, there would be no treaty. No bill. 12 months of progress will be squandered. It would take us back to square one."

Answering questions from reporters, Sunak reiterated that the government would not let a "foreign court" stop deportation flights to Rwanda getting off the ground, with details in the Bill asserting that only UK ministers would have this decision-making power.

However, many of his own MPs have expressed their disapproval of the UK breaking international law in any way, as well as multiple voices from across the party sharing concerns over whether the Rwanda scheme would be an effective deterrent at all for migrants crossing the Channel.

The row has seen multiple senior Tories quit their roles with CCHQ and the government, including deputy chairman Lee Anderson.

Sunak was insistent on Thursday that despite this, the party was "united in wanting to stop the boats".

"It's right that we debate this and that's because people are frustrated and passionate about this issue," he told reporters.

"It's understandable that people have got strong opinions, it's understandable that they want to do everything necessary to solve this issue. I share that frustration and I share that energy and that's why we are doing everything that we can, but last night the Conservative Party came together."

Additional reporting by Caitlin Doherty

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