Illegal Migration Bill suffers 20 defeats in House of Lords in fresh setback for Sunak

Illegal Migration Bill suffers 20 defeats in House of Lords in fresh setback for Sunak© Reuters

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, spearheaded one change to the bill with a cross-party demand for the government to draw up a 10-year strategy to work with other countries to tackle the refugee crisis – something a fellow peer dismissed as a “non-policy”.

Other changes the Lords imposed include reinstating the right of appeal against age assessments for migrants claiming to be children, putting a legal duty on ministers to create safe and legal routes to the UK for refugees and bolstering enforcement against people smugglers.

The defeats – which surpass those inflicted on the government in the Brexit years – follow a bruising night for the government on Monday, when a coalition of opposition peers, crossbenchers, bishops and Conservative rebels inflicted 11 defeats on the government over the bill.

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They raise the prospect of a prolonged stand-off and “parliamentary ping-pong” between the Lords and the Commons over the legislation.

Mr. Welby has emerged as an outspoken critic of the government’s plan to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda as a means to curb the trend of small boat crossings in the Channel.

The Anglican cleric argued his change could mitigate some of the concerns around the bill, which also states that those who arrive in the UK without government permission will be detained and promptly removed either to their home country or a third country such as Rwanda.

“I hope the government can see that this amendment is a positive and constructive suggestion whatever I or others may feel about the bill in general,” he said.

“I urge the government to develop a strategy that is ambitious, collaborative and worthy of our history and up to the scale of the enormous challenges that we face.”

However, Mr Welby was criticised during the proceedings by Tory former cabinet minister Lord Lilley, who said: “He hasn’t come forward with a policy. He’s coming forward with a policy to have a policy.”

He added: “His policy for other people to have policies is not a policy.”

The government also faced a rebel amendment from its own side, with Tory peer Baroness Stroud calling for more safe and legal routes for refugees.

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“The moral credibility of the entire bill depends on the existence of the creation of more safe and legal routes,” she said.

“The basis on which we are disestablishing illegal and unsafe routes is that we are creating legal and safe routes.

“The lack of a substantial commitment in primary legislation to this end is a serious omission and one which this amendment gives an opportunity to address.”

The government’s flagship Rwanda plan hit a further stumbling block last week after three judges in the Court of Appeal overturned a High Court ruling that previously said the east African nation could be considered a “safe third country” for migrants to be sent to.

Mr Sunak has said he “fundamentally disagrees” with the Court of Appeal’s ruling and will appeal it at the Supreme Court.