Old image: Sep 2015. Refugees Welcome Demo, London. Old image: Sep 2015. Refugees Welcome Demo, London. Source: David Holt - Wikicommon / cropped form original / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Tories’ insistence on continuing to try to force the toxic Rwanda Bill through parliament is dragging both main parties onto despicable ground argues Jamal Elaheebocus

The Tories’ embattled Rwanda Bill was once again delayed as the government was defeated in the House of Lords again, with two new amendments to the Bill being tabled. The government hoped and expected the Bill to gain royal assent and be written into law by the end of this week. 

The Bill has been in a state of ‘ping pong’ between the two Houses as the government has continually suffered major defeats in the House of Lords and the Tories have rejected various amendments to soften some of the worst aspects of the cruel legislation.

Since the bill passed the third reading in the Commons last December, the House of Lords has attempted to put in several broadly similar amendments, aiming to ensure the government pays due regard to international law, as well as ensuring Rwanda is not considered a ‘safe country’ until the mechanisms agreed in the treaty signed with Rwanda are implemented. All these amendments were sent back to the Commons and subsequently defeated.

The amendments voted on Wednesday were several. Firstly, to exempt those who worked with the UK military or government overseas from deportation (such as Afghan translators). Secondly, to restore jurisdiction of the domestic courts in determining the safety of Rwanda and allowing them to intervene. Thirdly, to say that Rwanda cannot be treated as a safe country until the Independent Monitoring Committee, set up as part of the treaty, has implemented the mechanisms to make Rwanda ‘safe’. Finally, to have due regard for both international law and various domestic laws, including the Children Act, Modern Slavery Act and the Human Rights Act. The government won all four votes as it did the first time, forcing the bill back to the Lords. 

Stampede to the right

It’s easy to forget just what this bill is proposing in amongst the parliamentary melodrama, but step back and you see yet another shift to the right on immigration even further than Theresa May’s notorious ‘hostile environment’.

The vast majority of Tory MPs voted  to ignore international law and ignore the Modern Slavery Act, which would exempt victims from modern slavery from the Rwanda scheme. These extreme and viciously cruel ideas are no longer the ideas of the Tory right but are the mainstream, supported by the majority of the supposedly moderate ‘One Nation’ Tories.

There have been weakly worded statements of concern from Tories like Theresa May about complying with international law, but ultimately every Tory MP has towed the line on this nasty legislation. Language of the far-right is now littered throughout Tory MPs’ speeches, with ex-home secretary Suella Braverman talking about an ‘invasion’ of immigrants. Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak says complying with the European Convention on Human Rights is not as important as stopping so-called illegal immigration and ‘looks forward’ to Rwanda flights taking off. Any semblance of humanity left in the Tory party has well and truly departed as desperation kicks in with a looming thrashing at the general election this year.

However, the Labour Party, as ever, has been little better than the Tories on the Rwanda issue. Its opposition to the legislation for the last two years has always centred around the fact it cannot practically be implemented and that it is not cost-effective. The fact the Bill aims to deport the most vulnerable people to a foreign country where they will likely be put in danger does not seem to concern the Labour Party and its leadership.

Stephen Kinnock’s response to the Bill today centred around concerns about the ‘deeply damaging nature of this legislation in terms of its impact on our constitutional conventions and our adherence as a country to the rule of law.’ In fact, he fed into the anti-immigration rhetoric, arguing that not enough ‘foreign criminals’ have been deported under the government’s watch.

If this Bill is finally passed into law, it may be one of the only pieces of Tory legislation which a Starmer government will actually repeal. However, it would only do so because Labour believes it has a more effective way of deporting and demonising vulnerable refugees and immigrants.

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