House of Lords Stalls U.K. Bill to Send Asylum Seekers to Rwanda

Britain’s House of Lords dealt a sharp setback to the government on Wednesday, voting to amend the Conservative Party’s flagship immigration legislation and potentially delay a contentious plan to put asylum seekers on one-way flights to Rwanda.

It was an unusual display of defiance by the Lords, many of whom object to the policy on legal and constitutional grounds. While the Conservative government, with a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, can ultimately get the bill passed, the back-and-forth with the House of Lords, the unelected upper house of Parliament, could thwart the government’s hopes for a quick start to a plan it views as critical to its fortunes in an election year.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak argues that the flights to Rwanda, a small country in East Africa, would be a vital deterrent that could stem the flow of tens of thousands of people who make dangerous, frequently illegal crossings from France to Britain each year on small, often unseaworthy boats.

The government does not expect any such flights until May, and, after Wednesday’s actions by the House of Lords, that timeline could now slip to June. The prime minister’s office had no immediate comment.

Those chosen for the first flight are expected to file legal appeals that could stymie the plan further.

Under the legislation, those deported from Britain would have their asylum claims assessed in Rwanda. But even if the claims were successful, the deportees would stay there and not be allowed to settle in Britain.

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