Rishi Sunak is to face a tough week as by-elections loom in two former Conservative safe seats (Wellingborough and Kingswood) and opposition to the Rwanda Bill grows. Moreover, inflation statistics will be published on Wednesday, followed by GDP figures on Thursday, which may well show the economy in recession.
Criticism of the Rwanda Bill
While MPs are in recess, the House of Lords is sitting so peers will begin to examine Sunak’s Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill today. The Bill, which is going through Parliament, seeks to severely limit asylum seekers’ ability to appeal against being put on a flight to Kigali. While they can try to claim Rwanda is not safe for them as an individual, they cannot argue that it is generally unsafe or that they are at risk of being transferred to a third country where they could be in danger.
Reports emerged last night that Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has said that the Bill is “fundamentally incompatible” with the UK’s human rights obligations and would flout international law, most obviously Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – the right to an effective remedy.
Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights said the Government’s Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill “risks untold damage” to the UK’s hard-won reputation as a proponent of human rights internationally. The crossbench committee of MPs and Lords said they had heard evidence that the problems identified by the Supreme Court could not be resolved so quickly.
The panel said in a report: “We are not persuaded that Parliament can be confident that Rwanda is now safe. In any event, we consider that the courts are best placed to resolve such contested issues of fact.”
The legislation also says it is up to ministers to decide whether to comply with interim rulings issued by judges at the European Court of Human Rights, and therefore “openly invites the possibility of the UK breaching international law”, according to the report.
Joint committee chairwoman Joanna Cherry said: “This Bill is designed to remove vital safeguards against persecution and human rights abuses, including the fundamental right to access a court. Hostility to human rights is at its heart and no amendments can salvage it. This isn’t just about the rights and wrongs of the Rwanda policy itself. By taking this approach, the Bill risks untold damage to the UK’s reputation as a proponent of human rights internationally. Human rights aren’t inconvenient barriers that must be overcome to reach policy goals, they are fundamental protections that ensure individuals are not harmed by Government action. If a policy is sound it should be able to withstand judicial scrutiny, not run away from it.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are committed to tackling this major global challenge with bold and innovative solutions, and the Rwanda scheme is doing just that. The Bill we have introduced, and the treaty alongside it, are the best way of getting flights off to Rwanda as soon as possible. Rwanda is clearly a safe country that cares deeply about supporting refugees. It hosts more than 135,000 asylum seekers and stands ready to relocate people and help them rebuild their lives.”
Three by-elections are taking place this month, in the latest test of the strength of Rishi Sunak’s government. Voters will go to the polls in Tory-held Wellingborough and Kingswood this week, while later this month ballots will open in the Labour seat of Rochdale. With the three contests seen as yet another electoral test for Sunak’s government, the results will be watched closely.
This week will pose challenges for Rishi Sunak – If Labour are able to hold on to Rochdale and win both Kingswood and Wellingborough, it will be seen as a major boost to Keir Starmer ahead of the general election. While for Sunak, a triple loss could prompt further rumblings of a potential leadership challenge, following Sir Simon Clarke’s recent call for him to resign.
A more split result, with the Conservatives holding on to one of their two seats would be an undeniable boost for the party – but would still be unlikely to spell longer-term success.