And here we go again. After winning a huge battle to get his Rwanda Bill through the House of Commons, Rishi Sunak is still nowhere near winning the war. Last week it was MP rebels from the right of the Conservative Party giving him a headache, this week it’s peers from the left of the political spectrum.
This week, Lords voted to delay the ratification of the Rwanda treaty – which bodes very badly indeed for the safe passage of the Bill through Parliament. The House of Lords backed by 214 votes to 171 a motion to delay the deportation agreement until the government can prove the country is safe.
Rishi Sunak issued a warning last week urging the House of Lords to respect the will of the people
What would be deemed acceptable “proof”? Well, the international agreements committee, chaired by Peter Goldsmith (a former Labour attorney general), says that measures including an improved complaints process, training for Rwandan officials and a new asylum law guaranteeing people will not be returned to countries where they could be in danger must be in place before the treaty can be endorsed.
Altogether, the committee has laid out 10 different tests it is urging the Government to meet before it will commit to ratification.
The Government ultimately has the power to overrule the Lords, but the problem for Sunak is that it’s going to be a very drawn-out process. Last week, peers agreed on a timetable that will see the bill get a second reading on 29 January, followed by three days of debate in the committee stage on 12, 14 and 19 February.
At that point amendments will be debated. The final vote on the bill will probably be held on the 12th March, after which the Commons can vote on the Lords’ amendments.
And if you’re thinking something doesn’t quite add up, you’d be absolutely right. Rishi Sunak has said that his aim is to get flights to Rwanda off the ground by the Spring, a tall order if the Bill is still being wrangled over in mid-March.
Plenty of Conservative MPs have now privately accepted that flights certainly won’t be taking off by the spring, and probably not before the General Election. Watch out for Sunak hunting for a ladder to climb down.