Five ways the Safety of Rwanda Bill shambles shows why it's time to stop Westminster making law for Scotland

Many Scots this week will be asking themselves for how long their country will have to be represented by the shambolic and increasingly lawless UK. The Safety of Rwanda Bill, which tells British judges they must say Rwanda is safe – whatever the evidence – plumbs new depths.

All ten amendments to it were voted down by the House of Commons this week. Today (Wed) it returns to the Lords. Some amendments are likely to be re-inserted – but the Labour Party has indicated that it will not try to stop the Bill and will only try to make small changes. This will only delay the Bill by a short time and it is likely to become law after the Easter recess at the latest. 

Here are five key points about the Safety of Rwanda Bill:

1. An Orwellian Law that tells judges what to think

The UK government is involved in an Orwellian process of making a law that instructs British courts to regard something as true that is demonstrably false. The Safety of Rwanda Bill says that whatever evidence is presented to the contrary, British judges must believe – or say they believe – that asylum seekers can be safely deported there. It will become unlawful for a British court to make a judgment based on the evidence before them.

2. The Supreme Court already ruled Rwanda is not safe

The Bill was drafted to get around a judgment by the UK’s Supreme Court that Rwanda has a poor human rights record and cannot be regarded as a safe country. The Foreign Office travel advice even currently warns British gay and trans people they may face discrimination and abuse in Rwanda – including from local authorities.

3. The House of Commons voted against respecting international law

This week, the House of Commons voted against an amendment to the Bill that said it would have to comply with existing domestic and international law. Surely that should be a basic requirement for any new law? But not in this case. The UK government is desperate to fulfil the dream and the ‘obsession’ of the right wing of the party, memorably expressed by Suella Braverman when she was Home Secretary, of seeing a plane take off containing vulnerable people who sought refuge from persecution in Britain. 

That will be a moment of desperate shame for many in Scotland, who will question why they are still part of a country that only upholds the rule of law when it is convenient.

4. This marks a historic break with shared values that underpin the devolution settlement

The Safety of Rwanda Bill marks a historic break with the shared values which underlie the devolution settlement (and arguably the Treaty of Union). These values are set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, which was devised by a Scottish lawyer. The Rwanda Bill is not compatible with the ECHR according to Westminster’s Joint Committee on Human Rights.

The Chair of the Committee, Edinburgh South West MP Joanna Cherry 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 (...) 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.” 

5. But Westminster can’t – or won’t – defend the rule of law

Today (Wednesday) the Bill returns to the House of Lords. The Conservatives have stuffed the Upper House with donors and cronies – from Boris Johnson’s tennis partner Ross Kempsell to the son of a Russian oligarch, Evgeny Lebedev. Nevertheless, they do not have an outright majority there as many peers sit as independents. So the Lords may try to reinsert some of the amendments. However, that will cause only a temporary hold-up –  the UK Labour Party has promised the government that it won’t kill the bill in the Lords and will eventually allow it to become law.

Westminster’s Upper House has no democratic legitimacy – because of the fact it is not elected and instead is full of people who are there because they are rich enough to donate large sums to political parties or because they inherited the seat. The inability to defend Britain’s unwritten constitution shows how broken Westminster is. 

Conclusion

The Safety of Rwanda Bill may face some limited opposition in the House of Lords today. But the Lords has no democratic legitimacy and so all it can do is insert some feeble amendments. The UK Government is likely to pass it into law soon.

This process has been instructive for many Scots. They are watching the UK Government decide that human rights don’t apply to some people and that the UK’s commitment to the rule of law only applies when it is convenient. 

Scotland handed over its right to represent itself in these matters to the UK with the Treaty of Union. Many Scots will watch the disreputable chaos and confusion at Westminster and feel it is long past time for Scotland to reclaim its independence.