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Rwanda Bill will at a stroke end the UK’s status as a “rule of law” nation, leading historian warns

A leading historian has warned that passing the Rwanda Bill would at a stroke remove the UK from the list of nations complying with the rule of law.  

  • Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, the renowned historian, author and academic, says that passing the bill would be “a profound moment in the history of this country”.
  • It would irrevocably change the UK and in a matter of “minutes, we will have become a different country”, he says

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, a cross-bencher, says that if the bill goes through at presently framed, it will be a “profound moment in the history of this country.”

“When it’s taken for Royal Assent to the King, he will have to sign away this country’s place on the list of rule of law nations - and in the time it takes for the document to go back from the palace into the Cabinet Office, the few minutes it takes, we will have become a different country.”

“I don’t think that several ministers in this Cabinet, perhaps the majority of them, have any sense of the magnitude of that, or the gravity of that because [of] the deeply ingrained sense of the rule of law, its salience, its indispensability, its purpose, its knock-on effects on everything else.”

“If you haven’t got a feel for that or an understanding of that you don’t know your own country - and what does that tell us about the Cabinet if …they can contemplate doing this, whatever their views on mass migration, to pass legislation in Parliament for the Royal Assent to get us off the list of rule of law nations.”

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill is currently stuck in 'ping pong' between the Lords and Commons with MPs and peers at loggerheads.

The Lords last week inflicted a series of fresh defeats on the Government over the flagship legislation, as they sought to amend with a series of safeguards.

When MPs return from their Easter break they are expected once again to remove the changes made by peers and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby - one of the bill’s most prominent critics - has indicated that peers would accept defeat.

Lord Hennessy’s comments come in an interview by the journalist Frances Gibb for the podcast series, “The Judges: Power, Politics and the People,” hosted by The University of Law.

He has recently published a book, “Land of Shame and Glory: Britain 2021–22” (Haus Publishing) about the upheaval of the Boris Johnson premiership, COVID pandemic and the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

A parliamentary report has found that the bill is fundamentally incompatible with Britain’s human rights obligations and places it in breach of international law.

The aim of the bill is to counter the judgment of the Supreme Court last November that found Rwanda was not a safe country to which UK asylum seekers could be forcibly removed.

The bill states Rwanda is in fact a safe country and that anyone sent there by the UK government will not be forcibly removed to an unsafe country. The report says it is unclear whether this can be guaranteed in practice.

The podcast episode, the last in the series, is a tribute to Lord Judge, who was Lord Chief Justice from 2008 to 2013 and who died last November.

On retiring as Chief Justice he had become a leading figure in the House of Lords. Highly influential and respected as a legislator, he was a strong defender of the rule of law and independence of the judiciary.

You can watch the full episode here or you can listen to the podcast on The University of Law channel which is being streamed on all major services including Spotify and Apple.