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Tory grandee Ken Clarke warns Rwanda bill risks an ‘elected dictatorship’

Tory grandee Ken Clarke has criticised Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda bill, warning that overturning a Supreme Court ruling could see the UK slipping into an “elected dictatorship”.

President Kagame has said he could return money to the UK if no asylum seekers are sent to his country under his deal with the government (PA Archive)
President Kagame has said he could return money to the UK if no asylum seekers are sent to his country under his deal with the government (PA Archive)

Former chancellor Lord Clarke is a key figure in the moderate wing of the conservative party and had previously backed the Rwanda deportation policy, but he has now argued it has hit a “brick wall” after being vetoed by the Supreme Court.

In the House of Lords, Lord Clark warned against the government overriding the courts as a “step too far” and that it risked a situation where “you claim that the colour black is the same as the colour white, all dogs are cats”.

He said: “If we pass this bill, we are asserting as a matter of law that Rwanda is a safe country for this purpose, that it is always going to be a safe country for this purpose until the law is changed.

“And the courts may not even consider any evidence brought before them to try to demonstrate that it’s not a safe country.

“This is a very dangerous constitutional provision.”

Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda bill passed it’s first hurdle in the second chamber last night (PA)
Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda bill passed it’s first hurdle in the second chamber last night (PA)

The Safety of Rwanda bill cleared its first major hurdle in the House of Lords last night, after peers voted by a majority of 122 against a motion designed to block it.

However, the bill is expected to encounter more opposition as peers attempt to amend it next month.

Speaking at the end of the debate, Labour’s Home Office spokesman Lord Vernon Coaker said that while his party opposed the bill, it was the job of the House of Lords - an unelected body - to scrutinise and amend legislation, not to block it.

Lord Clarke’s intervention is illustrative of an ongoing debate within the Conservative party about the UK government’s relationship with the judicial system, and legal and human rights hurdles to their flagship Rwanda policy.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby also warned that the bill could create a “pick-and-choose approach” to international law that would undermine the UK’s world standing.

The Most Rev Justin Welby said: “The UK should lead internationally as it has in the past, not stand apart.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has joined criticisms of the Rwanda bill (PA Wire)
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has joined criticisms of the Rwanda bill (PA Wire)

“A pick-and-choose approach to international law undermines our global standing and offends against the principle of universality that is there increasingly threatened foundation.”

Rev Welby did back the amendment to block the Bill, though he said the argument made for it was “convincing and powerful”.

He added: “But I think we have to wait until third reading and have done our revising work.”

The government is hoping to get the flights to Rwanda running by the spring.

A Home Office spokesperson said:

“We are determined to get flights off the ground to Rwanda and the UK has a strong and longstanding tradition of standing up for human rights.

“Rwanda is 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.”