Rwanda Bill suffers further defeats as Welby told to ‘check his white privilege’

Peers have inflicted further heavy defeats against Rishi Sunak’s proposed Rwanda asylum law as the Archbishop of Canterbury – a leading critic of the legislation – was told to “check his white privilege”.

The House of Lords backed by 278 votes to 189, majority 89, a move to overturn the Government plan to oust the courts from the process.

It effectively blows a hole in the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill which is intended to prevent continued legal challenges to the stalled deportation scheme after the Supreme Court ruled the plan was unlawful.

As well as compelling judges to regard the east African country as safe, the legislation would also give ministers the power to ignore emergency injunctions, aimed at clearing the way to send asylum seekers who cross the Channel in small boats on a one-way flight to Kigali.

But the amendment agreed by the Lords restores the jurisdiction of domestic courts in relation to the safety of Rwanda and enables them to intervene.

The unelected chamber also voted by 265 to 181, majority 84, to enable the courts to consider appeals against age assessment decisions before a person claiming to be an unaccompanied child is removed to Rwanda.

The latest Government setbacks to its Rwanda Bill follow five defeats on Monday, setting the stage for an extended tussle between the Commons and Lords during “ping-pong”, where legislation is batted between the two Houses until agreement is reached.

The Prime Minister had previously warned the Lords against frustrating “the will of the people” by hampering the passage of the Bill, which has already been approved by MPs.

Ahead of the next election, Mr Sunak has made “stopping the boats” a key pledge of his leadership.

Speaking during the debate, Tory former cabinet minister Lord Lilley told the upper chamber that there is a precedent for Parliament to declare certain countries as safe.

Addressing Mr Welby, who has been scathing of the Bill, the Conservative peer said: “What’s the difference? The first is that in those days the list were all white countries, now we’re dealing with a black country.

“And I just warn him that he better check his white privilege and his colonial assumptions or he might find himself in trouble with some of his bishops.”

Labour frontbencher Lord Coaker said: “The courts are there to ensure justice is done and I think justice in this case does require the ability for the law, as it impacts on an individual, to be tested in the courts.

“That strikes me as something which is fundamental to the way rule of law operates.

“Sometimes that’s really inconvenient to governments… but justice is an important part of our democracy.”

Responding, senior government law officer Lord Stewart of Dirleton said: “There are ample safeguards in the Bill and this amendment would be contrary to the Bill’s whole purpose.

“We have made it clear we cannot continue to allow relocations to Rwanda to be frustrated and delayed as a result of systemic challenges on its general safety.

“In this context the safety of a particular country is a matter for Parliament and one in which Parliament’s view should be sovereign.”

Meanwhile, the legislation has come under fire from the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights Dunja Mijatovic.

Writing in an article, she said: “Europe’s insistence on looking tough on migration is endangering rule of law across the continent.”

Ms Mijatovic added: “The upcoming adoption of the United Kingdom’s Safety of Rwanda Bill, currently working its way through the House of Lords, is perhaps the starkest illustration of this dangerous trajectory.

“This Bill will not only prevent redress for the most serious human rights violations, but by specifically excluding asylum seekers from access to justice, it will also negate the principle of equality before the law.

“Furthermore, the Rwanda Bill significantly interferes with judicial independence, compelling judges to align with the government’s stance that Rwanda is a safe destination, despite the UK Supreme Court’s well-considered and detailed finding to the contrary.”