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Parliament’s most senior human rights committee condemns today the Government’s Rwanda Bill as “fundamentally incompatible with the UK’s human rights obligations.”
The Joint Committee on Human Rights – composed of MPs and peers – effectively rejects the bill in its entirety proposing no amendments after a line-by-line examination of all the clauses.
The report is published on the day the House of Lords starts its detailed examination of the bill which is expected to give a very rough ride to the government and the Prime Minister for introducing it as an emergency measure.
The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill facilitates the removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda. It was proposed by Rishi Sunak after the Supreme Court rejected Rwanda as a safe country and the European Court of Human Rights stopped a flight going to Rwanda last year.
The bill strips out virtually all protection for asylum seekers and immigrants who arrive illegally in the UK in boats across the Channel under the UK’s own Human Rights Act. It severely limits the courts to hear appeals against deportation, allows ministers and civil servants to ignore directions from the European Court of Human Rights and orders the courts to treat Rwanda as a safe country under a new treaty with the UK.
The committee is “particularly alarmed” at the disapplication of part of the Act that allows authorities to ignore human rights granted under the European Convention of Human Rights which the UK is a signatory.
Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Joanna Cherry QC MP 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.”
The report is backed by the majority of the committee’s members who include Baroness Kennedy, Baroness Lawrence, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Labour MP for Streatham and Lord Alton.
Still, three of the committee’s Conservative members rejected the report’s findings by voting against clauses in the report. They are Jill Mortimer, MP for Hartlepool, who won the “Red Wall” seat in a by-election during Boris Johnson’s premiership; Lord Murray of Blidworth, a former Home Office minister and Baroness Meyer, the widow of Sir Christopher Meyer, the former British Ambassador to the United States. But they did not go as far as producing their own minority report to contradict the main report’s findings.
The committee is sceptical of the claims by the government that Rwanda is safe and that in practice asylum seekers sent there will be protected even if their claims to be allowed to enter the UK are rejected. The bill says they will be safe there but the committee and the Lords committee that examined international treaties could not find the mechanism to protect them.
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The report is most scathing about the damage to Britain’s standing and reputation by passing the law saying it is “in jeopardy”.
“If the UK enacts legislation that fails to respect its own international human rights commitments it will seriously harm its ability to influence other nations to respect the international legal order.”
It also raises the issue of whether the action by the government over Rwanda undermines the Good Friday agreement and the Windsor agreement in Northern Ireland. This has been raised by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission which says the agreement says Northern Ireland has to follow the European Convention on Human Rights and immigrants must have access to the courts.
The Government denies the agreement is so far-reaching. The committee is not satisfied and asks for ministers to lay a report before Parliament on this before the bill reaches the Report stage in the Lords.