House of Lords ‘protecting democracy from itself’ as it refuses to ratify Rwanda plans | Politics | News

January 22, 2024
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Unelected peers insisted they are “protecting democracy from itself” after inflicting the first defeat on Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda plans.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak secured a treaty with Kigali agreeing it will not transfer migrants to other countries.

But the House of Lords ignored warnings that it should listen to the “will of the people” and refused to ratify the pact.

Lord Carlile, ex-independent reviewer of terrorism legislation and a former Liberal Democrat, said: “I have been offended by criticism, some of it aimed at me and others who spoke out on the Rwanda subject that we are unelected nobodies who have been put here to obey the rule of the democratically elected House.

“That is not our role. One of our roles here is to protect democracy, sometimes to protect democracy from itself.

“To ensure that (MPs) and indeed members of our own House do not overstep the mark.”

Peers voted by 214 votes to 171, majority 43, to delay the treaty with Rwanda.

Labour’s Baroness Chakrabarti claimed peers are entitled to be a “little more muscular than usual” and dismissed calls to respect the will of the people.

She said: “I would suggest that instead of there being this sort of telepathic connection between any individual leader and the will of the people, in a constitutional democracy… it is Parliament that will reflect, to the best of its ability, the will of the people, and certainly represent people in this country, but also champion the rule of law.”

Labour frontbencher Lord Coaker said: “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.”

Although the treaty is separate to the Rwanda bill aimed at getting deportation flights off the runway, it underpins the legislation by addressing concerns raised by the Supreme Court.

The defeat showed how many peers are prepared to line up against the plans and the scale of the battle ahead for the government.

Labour peer Lord Goldsmith, a former attorney general and chairman of the International Agreements Committee, was behind the unprecedented move to delay the treaty.

He said: “The treaty is held up by the Government as the justification for the measures in the Bill and yet the treaty cannot at present provide a basis for Parliament to judge that Rwanda is safe while so many aspects of the treaty remain unimplemented and untested.”

Conservative Lord Howell of Guildford warned peers about the “rather patronising tone one” being used about Rwanda and its judiciary.

But fellow Tory peer Lord Balfe questioned if anywhere in Africa is “particularly safe”.

“I can’t think of any country in Africa that I would wish to go and live in,” he said.

Ministers must respond formally to the defeat within the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, the Safety of Rwanda Bill returns to the Lords next Monday after comfortably clearing the Commons.

Home Office Minister Lord Sharpe said the treaty “responds comprehensively” to the Supreme Court’s concerns about migrants being sent on to other countries.

He questioned whether Labour was using the House of Lords “to try to frustrate” the Rwanda plan.

“We must stop the boats,” he added.



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