Ex-Tory Chair Under Thatcher Slams Government Over Rwanda Bill: 'I'm Not Proud'

It's a blow to Rishi Sunak's government as ministers have publicly lauded the Iron Lady.
Lord Deben
Lord Deben

The former Conservative party chair under Margaret Thatcher ripped into the government’s Rwanda bill on Wednesday.

Lord Deben was debating Rishi Sunak’s new bill intends to override the Supreme Court’s ruling that it was included in the rule of law in the House of Lords.

He said: “I must say, I am a bit tired of having to remind this Government about what it means to be a conservative.

“We have a reputation in the world because of our Modern Slavery Act. It was a brave and important thing to do.

“It was welcomed across the whole house. I am proud that it was a Conservative government that did this.

“I’m not proud that there is a Conservative government undermining that when we know that more than three quarters of those who appeal in these circumstances are found to be right in their appeal.”

Lord Deben served as the chair of the Conservative party between 1983 and 1985 and was a Tory MP for over 30 years.

His attack will be a particular blow to the Sunak government, as the PM previously invoked Thatcher by calling the Conservatives “the party of the grocer’s daughter and the pharmacist’s son”.

The Lords have repeatedly ripped into Sunak's bill
The Lords have repeatedly ripped into Sunak's bill
DANIEL LEAL via Getty Images

Lord Deben, also called for those who “sit in our comfortable places” might want to reach out to those “who are uncomfortable” – adding: “There are few people who are in a more uncomfortable position that these.

“So on what possible moral basis do you threaten to send them to a country which has not signed up to the international agreement on modern slavery?

“To a country which has twice as many as modern slaves as we do – and we admit that we have many that we have whom we have not traced?

“To a country that has a history of ignoring this problem?

“How on earth can we defend that on a moral basis, leave alone on a practical basis?”

Lord Deben noted that many of those seeking refuge in the UK will not be deterred by the deportation plan – which has been marketed by the government as a deterrent – because they are being trafficked.

“I really believe that we cannot allow this bill to go through without some serious consideration of this point, and we cannot allow our country to be let down in this way,” he said.

He was not the only peer to take issue with the proposed bill, either.

Lord Kerr, former head of the UK’s diplomatic service and currently a crossbench peer, pointed out the bill means Rwandan asylum seekers could be deported back to the place they were being persecuted.

Lord Ken Clarke, who held successive government roles under Thatcher and John Major, and was the justice secretary and Lord Chancellor Under David Cameron, said the bill set an “extremely dangerous precedent”.

Addressing the government’s attempts to bypass those who say the bill is illegal, Lord Clarke said: “I continue to be flabbergasted by the constitutional implications of the government acting in this way. ”

On Monday, Lord Tugendhat, who also served under Thatcher, accused ministers of behaving like “despots”, and said the former PM would not have supported the bill because she believed in the law.


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