The upper house of the British Parliament has urged the Conservative government not to ratify a migration treaty with Rwanda.
It is a largely symbolic decision, but one which portends greater opposition to the contentious plan to return some asylum seekers to the African country, which has stalled.
On Monday evening, the House of Lords voted 214 to 171 to delay the treaty that paves the way for the deportation plan. The treaty and accompanying bill are the pillars of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak 's bid to overcome the UK Supreme Court 's block on deportations .
The Lords, who are appointed rather than elected, backed a motion that Parliament should not ratify the pact until ministers demonstrate that Rwanda is safe.
John Kerr, a former diplomat who sits in the Lords, said the Rwanda plan was “incompatible with our responsibilities” under international human rights law. “Considerations of international law and national reputation (...) convince me that it would not be right to ratify this treaty at any time ,” he declared.
The vote has little practical impact, because the House of Lords cannot block an international treaty, and the government says it will not delay it. However, ignoring the request could be used against the government in a legal challenge.
MPs in the House of Commons approved the bill last week, but only after 60 members of Mr Sunak's Conservative Party rebelled to make the legislation tougher.
Monday's vote shows the strength of the opposition in the House of Lords. Many want to water down the bill and, unlike the House of Commons, the ruling Conservatives do not have a majority of seats.
The Lords will begin debating the bill next week. Ultimately, the upper house can delay and amend legislation, but it cannot overturn the decisions of elected members of the House of Commons.
The Rwandan policy is a key part of Mr Sunak's promise to "stop the boats" bringing unauthorized migrants to the UK across the Channel from France. Mr Sunak says deporting unauthorized asylum seekers will deter people from making risky journeys across the Channel and break the business model of smuggling gangs.
London and Kigali struck a deal almost two years ago under which migrants who reach Britain across the Channel would be sent to Rwanda, where they would stay permanently. Britain has paid Rwanda at least 240 million pounds under the deal, but no one has yet been sent to the East African country.
Human rights groups have criticized the plan as inhumane and unworkable. After being challenged in the British courts, the UK Supreme Court ruled in November that the policy was unlawful because Rwanda is not a safe country for refugees.
In response to the court ruling, Britain and Rwanda signed a treaty pledging to strengthen migrant protections. Mr Sunak's government maintains that the treaty allows it to pass a law declaring Rwanda a safe destination.
If approved by Parliament, the law would allow the government to waive certain provisions of UK human rights law when it comes to Rwanda-related asylum claims, and make it more difficult contesting evictions in court.