Rishi Sunak’s promise to start transporting asylum seekers to Rwanda by spring seemed further away than ever when House of Lords members approved a schedule that would not result in the bill being passed until late March.
The prime minister urged members of the House of Lords to swiftly pass his asylum legislation on Thursday, following its approval by the House of Commons the previous night. He emphasized that the bill reflects the desires of the general public.
On Thursday evening, his statements seemed to have a negative impact as members of the Lords described them as “strange,” “lacking substance,” and “odd.” They then voted to give themselves two months to carefully examine the bill.
Labour’s leader in the House of Lords, Angela Smith, expressed her thoughts to The Guardian saying, “Sunak’s press conference was strange. I don’t believe he understands the workings of the Lords. We will follow our usual procedures for approving this bill.”
Alex Carlile, an independent member of the UK Parliament and legal professional, remarked that the prime minister’s press conference lacked substance and was unoriginal, with him repeating the same statement approximately 20 times. This has caused irritation among members of the House of Lords.
Conservative member of the House of Lords, Jonathan Marland, proposed that there will be a lengthy discussion among peers regarding the specifics of the legislation.
“What is the legal process in place for Rwandans in the courts?” he asked GB News. “What are their rights for appeals?”
“The government has acknowledged the essential aspects of this bill, yet has taken no action towards them.”
He stated, “It is the responsibility of the Lords to ensure that any loose ends in the bill are addressed, so I anticipate there will be extensive discussion on the matter.”
High-ranking officials in the government rejoiced on Wednesday evening after Sunak successfully overcame opposition from fellow Members of Parliament to pass his legislation regarding Rwanda. This new law declares Rwanda as a secure location for refugees and grants government officials the ability to disregard temporary orders from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The prime minister held a press conference at Downing Street on Thursday morning to take advantage of the victory. He urged members of the House of Lords to pass it as swiftly as the Commons did.
Sunak asked if the House of Lords will comprehend the public’s frustration and align with the decisions made by the elected house in a timely manner to pass this legislation. This will enable us to have the law in effect and resume flights.
In a matter of hours, colleagues reached a consensus on a schedule that will result in the bill receiving a second reading on January 29th, followed by three days of discussion during the committee stage on February 12th, 14th, and 19th.
During this procedure, colleagues may propose various changes, many of which may aim to prevent government officials from disregarding decisions made by national or global courts.
On 12 March, it is expected that a final decision on the bill will be made, followed by a vote on any amendments made by the Lords in the Commons. The back-and-forth process of negotiating and reaching a consensus between the two governing bodies, also known as “ping-pong”, may take a few more weeks to complete.
According to sources within the government, Sunak is getting ready to instruct his MPs to reject any amendments made by the Lords.
“We have devised a plan that both factions of the party can tolerate,” one person stated. “We will not make any major alterations that could potentially shift the balance in either direction.”
If Sunak successfully navigates future rebellions in the Commons, the bill is expected to pass without any changes, as Labour has stated they will not obstruct it in the House of Lords.
Lady Smith expressed her opinion that if the unelected house were to reject a decision made by the elected house, it would have significant constitutional implications.
By that time, the government would be pressed for time to launch a flight and fulfill Sunak’s commitment of having the program operational by spring.
The Downing Street spokesperson reiterated their commitment to the previously set timetable on Thursday. They stated, “Our goal is to launch flights and establish the partnership in order to have a deterrent impact starting in the spring.”
On Thursday, Home Office ministers acknowledged that they are attempting to locate approximately 6,000 asylum seekers that they are currently unable to find, as Sunak continues to urge the Lords to pass the bill.
The immigration ministers, Michael Tomlinson and Tom Pursglove, sent a letter to Diana Johnson, the chair of the home affairs select committee, stating that they had reviewed their records and discovered that 5,598 individuals were residing in the UK but were not in communication with the Home Office. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, responded by expressing shock at this revelation.
Certain members of the Conservative party are concerned that even if the bill is passed successfully, issues with the asylum system may steal the spotlight. Additionally, there are those who have cautioned against placing too much emphasis on immigration, as this could potentially benefit Reform UK, a right-leaning party founded by Nigel Farage.
A senior member of the Tory party expressed frustration, stating that the constant discussion about the issue is unnecessary as it is not a top concern for the majority of people. The party’s internal disputes have only highlighted their division and continue to remind the public of it on a daily basis.