Conservative peer from Harrogate criticises government’s Rwanda bill
Last updated Feb 4, 2024
Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate. Picture: House of Lords.
Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate

A Conservative peer from Harrogate has criticised the government’s Rwanda bill for creating a “legal fiction” that would “diminish our international reputation”,

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill aims to override international law by saying Rwanda is a safe country where illegal migrants can be sent to have their asylum and human rights claims assessed.

Local Conservative MPs Andrew Jones, who represents Harrogate and Knaresborough, and Julian Smith, who represents Skipton and Ripon, have both voted to support the Bill.

But Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate spoke out against it during a debate in the House of Lords on Monday.

He said:

“The Bill, as it stands, risks entangling us in a complex web of ethical and legal dilemmas that could diminish our international reputation, betray our duty to the genuine asylum seekers, undermine the rule of law and place our courts in an exceedingly difficult position. It risks creating a legislative or legal fiction.

“Let us be clear: the European Court of Human Rights is not a foreign court; it is a shared court.

“The UK was instrumental in its establishment and has significantly contributed to its jurisprudence. A British judge sits on the court and British lawyers are involved in its administration.”

The lawyer, who as Timothy Kirkhope served as an MP for Yorkshire and the Humber and an MEP for Leeds North East, added the bill “would place the UK in direct violation of its treaty obligations”, adding:

“How can the UK continue to be a global advocate for the rule of law—as many others have said—and honouring international commitments if this happens?”

“I am not alone in being perplexed by the inconsistencies that this policy and this Bill will introduce.”

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Lord Kirkhope said the government had many tools to deal with the issue and “we simply need to know which tools to use and how to deploy them better”.

He went on to praise the government for reducing the number of small boat crossings by 36% compared to 2022 and said the number of staff working on asylum cases had “increased significantly, and 112,000 asylum cases were processed in 2023, the most in any year since 2002”.

Last year’s deal with France had “greatly enhanced co-operation”, he said, adding.

“All these tools—and a number of others—have been, and will continue to be, more effective in stopping the boats than these Rwanda proposals. The government should focus on these instead, and I believe the country would be grateful.

“My remarks today stem from a deep sense of regret and disappointment in witnessing how we have become embroiled in what can be described only as an unhealthy obsession with Rwanda.

“This fixation appears to be an attempt to satisfy certain factions and individuals, who seem to possess neither the depth of understanding nor the nuanced appreciation of the complexities involved in asylum and immigration matters.

“For them, nothing will be enough.”