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Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda bill is step towards totalitarianism, top lawyer in the Lords warns

Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda bill is step towards totalitarianism, top lawyer in the Lords warns

A leading lawyer who sits in the Lords has warned that Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda bill is “a step toward totalitarianism”.

Lord Carlile, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said ministers were seeking to elevate themselves “to an unacceptable level above the law”.

The crossbench peer, a leading critic of the Rwanda deportation plan in the House of Lords, also warned the “integrity of our legal system is under attack because of internal political quarrelling in the Conservative Party”.

His intervention came the morning after Mr Sunak faced down rebels within his own party to win a showdown Commons vote on the plan to deport asylum seekers to the east African country.

Lord Carlile warned that ‘the integrity of our legal system are under attack’ (PA)
Lord Carlile warned that ‘the integrity of our legal system are under attack’ (PA)

MPs passed the embattled PM’s controversial bill by 320 votes to 276 - with 11 Tories voting against the government.

But Mr Sunak still faces a lengthy battle to get the bill into law, as the House of Lords is likely to push for significant changes or to throw the bill out altogether.

Policing minister Chris Philp said the bill would be able to pass through the upper chamber “fairly fast” as it is “pretty short”.

He told Times Radio: “It is a pretty short Bill, it is only about five or six substantive clauses. To give you a sense of context, the Criminal Justice Bill that I am taking through Parliament… has about 80 clauses.

“So it is a pretty short bill which means it should be able to get through the House of Lords fairly fast.”

But Lord Carlile told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it is the upper chamber’s role to revise legislation and protect the public from abuses of the law by ministers.

He added: “I think many of us in the House of Lords believe that is exactly what has happened, that good policymaking and the integrity of our legal system are under attack because of internal political quarrelling in the Conservative Party.

He said lawyers are being unfairly blamed for the hurdles the Rwanda policy has faced, adding that “lawyers on the whole do not accept that”.

“What we are doing is trying to countermand meddling by politicians in the law,” he added.

And Lord Carlile said: “It’s been the government elevating itself to an unacceptable level above the law, above our much-admired Supreme Court, and above the reputation internationally of the United Kingdom law.

“We’ve seen in various countries the damage that is done when governments use perceived and often ill-judged political imperatives to place themselves above the courts – this is a step towards totalitarianism and an attitude that the United Kingdom usually deprecates.

“I think you’ll find that many of us in the House of Lords will say this is a step too far, this is illegitimate interference by politics with the law, on an issue that can be solved in other ways.”