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Rishi Sunak Facing Struggle To Get Rwanda Legislation Past Lords

(Alamy)

5 min read

The House of Lords would “probably” be the point at which the government runs into issues trying to pass its emergency legislation on the Rwanda policy, a parliamentary expert has said.

Dr Alice Lilly, senior researcher at the Institute for Government, told PoliticsHome that there has to be a “certain amount of political willingness” for legislation to get through quickly, and the fact that the plans are “politically so contentious” could slow things down. 

Rishi Sunak announced yesterday that as well as a new treaty with Rwanda, he would “take the extraordinary step of introducing emergency legislation” to “end the merry go round” and stop the plans to send migrants there being blocked by legal challenges.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said on Thursday that “the approach we have seen where people challenge the principle of our Rwanda policy will be dealt with through the emergency legislation.”

“We think this is the fastest route to getting flights in the air and we think that by closing off avenues of challenge it will help speed through the process.”

Sunak has come under intense pressure to take further steps to enact the Rwanda policy after the Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that it was unlawful.

While on one hand swathes of Tory peers are expected to object to any suggestion in the legislation that the government could disapply human rights law when it is put before them, this step is what the Prime Minister is being urged to take by dozens of MPs on the right of the parliamentary party who want the government to take a much harder line in light of the court ruling.

A number of these MPs were expected to write to Sunak on Thursday urging him to protect his “emergency” legislation for legal challenges on human rights grounds. Many of these MPs are avid supporters of Suella Braverman, the erstwhile home secretary. An ally of Braverman has dismissed Sunak’s revised strategy, saying it would end up “stuck in the courts”.

PoliticsHome understands that the new legislation is expected to appear at some point after next week’s Autumn Statement. The new treaty with Rwanda, which the government says it has been working on for months, could emerge before then.

Ministers will want it their "emergency legislation" to clear Parliament as quickly as possible, but Lilly predicted that "if there’s going to be somewhere that the government has a problem, it’s probably going to be in the House of Lords.” 

She explained to PoliticsHome that emergency legislation is much the same as normal legislation, apart from that it moves through its stages a lot more quickly. 

“What that means is there does need to be a certain amount of political willingness for that to happen.” Lilly said.  

She pointed to emergency legislation that had to be passed during the Covid pandemic, where it made its way through the Houses quickly due to the urgency of the situation. 

“Obviously for this piece of legislation that might be a bit more complicated because it’s politically so contentious,” she said. 

She added: “There is no intrinsic reason why the government wouldn’t be able to get this bill passed in time for the next election [...] however the politics of it means that could potentially be a bit trickier.”

Conservative peer Lord Timothy Kirkhope told PoliticsHome that he thought the plans were “going to cause quite a few little difficulties.” 

Kirkhope, who said he supports the government’s plans to stop small boat crossings, but has raised issue with the proposals in the past in the Lords, had hoped that ministers “might take this opportunity to look at alternatives.” 

“What’s so sad is they can do this in so many other ways which they haven’t even tried,” Kirkhope added. 

“Or at least if they have, they haven’t tried with enough energy.” 

Meanwhile, another Tory peer told PoliticsHome that “any hint of the law not being followed or the Human Rights Act being disapplied will really struggle to win Conservative votes”. 

Sunak told MPs yesterday that he would be willing to revisit domestic legal frameworks  and “international relationships” which suggested ministers could be prepared to pursue changes to the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

The PM’s spokesman earlier today said that “we believe that the approach we are taking through the treaty and the legislation addresses the concerns raised by the courts” and will be the “fastest way of getting flights in the air and to ultimately stopping the boats, which is what the public want.” 

He added: “We are willing if necessary to change our laws and revisit international relationships if obstacles are put in our way.

"But first and foremost, we believe that this addresses the concerns of the courts and therefore will enable us to proceed with flights next year.”

James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, on Wednesday clarified that the government did not believe it would need to withdraw from the ECHR to implement its plans.

Robert Buckland, the former Cabinet minister, said “populist” calls to leave the ECHR by other Tory MPs “at best mean nothing and at worst undermine Britain’s standing in the world".

“We wrote the European Convention on Human Rights. We are hardly ever found in breach of it. It really is a non-issue and we should stop banging on about it,” he told Sky News.

Earlier this year, PoliticsHome reported on the Lords challenging the Illegal Migration Bill as it made its way through Parliament. 

These included changes that Lords made which would have forced the government to provide protections for unaccompanied children, and another which would have made them abide by international treaties, although these were eventually dismissed.

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