Rishi Sunak warns House of Lords: Support Rwanda flights

Rishi Sunak warns House of Lords: Support Rwanda flights

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at a Downing Street press conference on Thursday, after the House of Commons passed Rwanda's latest law the previous evening.Photograph by Stephane Rousseau/Reuters

“Rwanda”. The small East African country has become a magic word for the conservative British government. According to opinion polls, there is significant dissatisfaction among voters with Prime Minister Sunak's policies – and those of his Conservative predecessors. Waiting lists for healthcare are long, crime is on the rise, sewage is increasingly flowing into rivers, strikes are common, and there are scandals in parastatals. Conservatives hope voters will forgive everything if a plane carrying illegal immigrants departs for Rwanda this year.

After all, immigration is the main concern in nine out of ten electoral districts. After Britain left the European Union, the Conservatives promised to regain control of the border, but net migration last year reached a record 700,000 people. Although they make up only a small fraction, about 30,000 in 2023, most attention is focused on the migrants, most of whom are young, who illegally reach the British coast in small boats. On Wednesday there were 358 again, after weeks of quiet in Dover due to bad weather.

That was the day the House of Commons had to take a decision on the latest law in Rwanda. The emergency law was necessary because the British Supreme Court halted asylum flights at the end of last year. Rwanda was not considered safe enough, even though the United Nations uses this African country to send refugees. Sunak's government – its slogan: “Stop the boats” – quickly brought in legislation to address the legal concerns. He also promised to release 150 judges and process appeals quickly.

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New obstacle

The right part of his group tried to tighten the law further. For example, the conservative rebels, almost all of whom have the title “sir”, want to limit appeal options and give the government scope to ignore international human rights treaties. Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman claimed Britain's borders were now “under the control of European judges in Strasbourg”. Sunak refused to agree to their proposals, anticipating that the rebels would not dare to blow up the entire law. This strategy has succeeded.

But after this victory, a new obstacle appeared: the 785 Lords and ladies In the House of Lords. The Conservative Party is the largest party there, with 270 members, but it does not have a majority. Sunak stressed the fact that the House of Lords is largely unelected, so has no moral right to lie down in front of its flagship. “There's only one question now,” he said Thursday morning. “Will the opposition in the House of Lords try to thwart the will of the people as expressed in the elected House of Commons, or will they join in and do the right thing?”

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