.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Monday, April 15, 2024

Ping pong must continue

I woke up this morning to confident assertions by Tory politicians and the unquestioning affirmation of BBC journalists, that the government's Rwanda bill is going to pass into law this week and that the first flights would be taking off within a month.

My first reaction to this was 'not if the House of Lords have any say in the matter' and then I remmembered that prolonged ping pong between the two Houses of Parliament depends on peers not losing their nerve and that, in turn, relies on Labour being prepared to do what they haven't been willing to countenance so far, use the second chamber to frustrate the will of the House of Commons through persistent and constructive amendments.

This opinion piece in the Guardian by Simon McDonald resonates strongly with my thinking on the matter. He says that peers know the Rwanda bill is flawed and dangerous and suggests that they must use every power to oppose it:

So far this year, the House of Lords has debated the safety of Rwanda bill for more than 40 hours. Immediately before Easter, the Lords passed a second set of seven amendments and returned the bill to the Commons (which had earlier rejected the first set of 10 amendments). The Commons will consider those amendments when parliament returns from its Easter recess tomorrow.

The debate in the Lords has highlighted the fundamental flaws of the legislation, legally and constitutionally. But the government believes that “stopping the boats” is important enough to override the UK’s traditional respect for human rights; it argues that the scheme will have such a powerful deterrent effect that potential asylum seekers won’t cross the Channel.

Deterrence works in one of two ways. The more powerful is the certainty of unpleasant consequences when you do something. The UK-Albania communique, signed in December 2022, falls into that category. Albanians who claim asylum in the UK now know that they will be returned to Albania; they have substantially stopped coming.

Being uncertain that unpleasant consequences will not follow exerts a less powerful but sometimes still effective deterrent effect. The government hopes the Rwanda scheme falls into this category. And yet debate has revealed facts that undermine their case. First, the Home Office minister, Lord Sharpe, revealed that about 55,000 asylum applications were lodged in the last nine months of 2023. Second, ministers failed to deny reports that Rwanda has agreed to take just 300 refugees in the first three years of the scheme’s operation. So, a refugee’s chances of deportation are minimal. Very few potential asylum seekers would be deterred by such odds, having already journeyed thousands of miles and overcome numerous challenges.

The scheme would also be astronomically expensive: the National Audit Office puts the costs at £541m. The cost for each refugee sent to Rwanda would be about £1.8m over three years. As Lord Carlile has observed, it would be cheaper to put them up at the Ritz.

For this doomed venture, the government is asking parliament to pass legislation that is extraordinary in two ways. First, the bill declares as a fact that Rwanda is safe enough to provide shelter for vulnerable people fleeing persecution in their home countries. It is true that Rwanda has seen astonishing progress since the genocide that began 30 years ago this month. But it is not safe. President Kagame does not tolerate dissent. And the best our government can manage when challenged over the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community is that Rwanda does better than its neighbours, some of the world’s most notoriously hostile countries towards LGBTQ+ people. Rwanda is also embroiled in the civil war in eastern Congo; no one in Kinshasa considers Rwanda a safe country to do business with.

Repeatedly, ministers cite the signature of the UK-Rwanda treaty as clinching proof that Rwanda is safe. Kigali has made a series of promises that parliament is invited to take at face value. But signatures are cheap. Naivety is the second worst failing of diplomats. Ronald Reagan was guided by the principle “Trust but verify”. The House of Lords international agreements committee concurs and has set out 10 tests it believes need to be passed before the treaty can safely come into force. The government rejects the need to verify.

Second, the bill states that British courts must accept that Rwanda is safe; courts can neither question that view now nor in the future in the light of new evidence that Rwanda may no longer be safe. From time to time, governments set out controversial facts in legislation. To date, it has been possible to test such facts in court; that happened, for example, with the Asylum and Immigration Act (2004) when the courts upheld the government’s view that Rwanda could be considered a “safe third country”.

This time is different. The courts will be told unequivocally that they cannot question the government’s view. This is unusual but not unprecedented. Lord Hoffmann reminded the Lords of the last such case, the Acte for Poysoning (1531). Henry VIII had a pathological fear of poisoning. Originally the bill had two provisions: to treat all cases of poisoning as treason and to stipulate death by boiling for anyone found guilty. At the last minute, he added a third clause, after two people died following a dinner party given by the bishop of Rochester in February 1531. The bill found Richard Roose, the cook, guilty of poisoning. Royal assent was given on 31 March and Roose boiled to death on 15 April.

Even at the time, parliamentarians were uneasy; the act was used in only one other case before its repeal in the first year of the reign of Henry’s successor. But the stain on the country’s reputation is remembered 493 years later. The government wants to repeat Henry’s error.

The big question now is will the Lords and Labour have the cojones to send this bill into long term ping pong, so that it cannot pass before a general election is held to provide a mandate for it.
Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?