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MPs throw out Lords changes to Rwanda Bill as Sunak seeks to get deportations flights off ground in weeks

MPs throw out Lords changes to Rwanda Bill as Sunak seeks to get deportations flights off ground in weeks

MPs threw out all 10 Lords amendments on the deeply controversial Rwanda Bill on Monday night as Rishi Sunak seeks to get deportations flights off the ground within weeks.

The Rwanda Bill, needed to pave the way for the flights, is yet to get approval from Parliament but is expected to do so shortly after further rows between the Lords and Commons.

MPs voted by majorities ranging from 69 to 78 to reject 10 amendments made to the Bill by peers, an indication of a relatively stress-free Monday for the Government.

This included an amendment which sought to identify and protect victims of modern slavery and human trafficking from being removed to Rwanda without their consent.

Another would have offered protections for asylum seekers claiming to be unaccompanied children while the last one sought to exempt people from removal to Rwanda if they put themselves in harm's way by working with the UK armed forces or UK Government overseas.

The Prime Minister, on a visit to Coventry, said: "I'm still committed to the timeline that I set out previously, which is we aim to get a flight off in the spring.

"It is important that we get the Rwanda scheme up and running, because we need to have a deterrent (to illegal migration)."

But the deportation scheme, which aims to address the “small boats” crisis in the Channel, has been heavily criticised and even the Government admits it may not abide by human rights laws.

Conservative Peer Lord Deben told LBC that Rwanda wasn’t safe and that the bill was unconstitutional, adding: "I've never told a public lie in all the 16 years of being Minister... I'm not going to tell one now."

He said the Lords may try to change the bill again once it returns from the Commons.

Cabinet minister Mark Harper has declined to guarantee that migrant flights to Rwanda would take off before the general election, while Labour attacked the Government’s flagship asylum policy as a “gimmick”.

Parliament is currently considering the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, which seeks to compel judges to regard the east African country as safe in a bid to clear the way to send asylum seekers who cross the Channel in small boats on a one-way flight there.

Some Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat and crossbench peers have strongly criticised the legislation but the Lords, a revising Chamber, is ultimately not expected to block it.

For Labour, shadow Home Office minister Stephen Kinnock said of the 10 amendments: "They each serve to make this shambolic mess of a Bill marginally less absurd, and they would serve only to put in statute what ministers have actually promised from that despatch box.

"Not one of these amendments is designed to prevent the departure of flights to Rwanda, as the Prime Minister has repeatedly and wrongly implied that they will."

Conservative former minister Sir John Hayes questioned whether peers were "clueless or careless" about what is happening with immigration.

Tory colleague Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) told the debate: "Any attempts to wreck this Bill is an open-door policy to let human traffickers traffic people illegally into our country, to upset our local communities and ultimately, unfortunately, more people will die if this Bill doesn't go through because of the loss of life in the Channel."

Mr Stafford said of peers: "They clearly don't care about the people who are dying in the Channel trying to cross it. They clearly don't care about the cost to the public purse of these hundreds of thousands illegal immigrants coming over.

"Their lordships clearly don't care about the everyday person in the street."

Conservative MP Sir Bill Cash (Stone) criticised amendments made by peers and urged Parliament to "get on" with the Bill, saying MPs should be "very firm" with the Lords.

SNP MP Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) said: "It's not really the Safety of Rwanda Bill, it's the Safety of the Prime Minister Bill.

"It's all been designed to try and keep certain elements of his backbenchers happy and on that test it seems to have failed, just as it has failed on practically every other criteria that it could be assessed against."

The Bill will pass between the two Houses of Parliament, in what is known as “ping-pong”, until they can reach agreement on its wording.

A delay of the second stage until after Easter in April could infuriate some Tory MPs who would see it as a weakening of ministers’ commitment to getting flights quickly off to Kigali.

Mr Harper said it was the Government’s “intention” for flights to take off before the election, but would not give a firm guarantee.

With Rishi Sunak having this week ruled out a May 2 vote, the general election is expected in the latter half of 2024.

 (Simon Walker/No 10 Downing Street)
(Simon Walker/No 10 Downing Street)

The Transport Secretary told Sky News’s Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips: “Well, that is the intention.

“We will hopefully have the legislation in place shortly once it’s finished going through Parliament.

“The Home Office team has been working very hard on making sure all the operational matters are in place once that legislation is on the statute book.

“And we are going to work very hard to make sure that we can get those flights away as quickly as we can to send out that message to break the backs of those organised crime groups. That is our intention.

“Obviously there will be people that will try and challenge us and stop us, but that is our intention. And we’re working incredibly hard to deliver that commitment that the Prime Minister made when he was elected.”

Mr Sunak has made “stopping the boats” a key pledge of his leadership, with the Rwanda plan central to it.

The cost of the stalled scheme could soar to half a billion pounds, plus hundreds of thousands more for each deportee, a recent investigation by the public spending watchdog found.

The plan, which is yet to see a flight take off after a series of legal setbacks, could cost taxpayers nearly £2 million for each of the first 300 asylum seekers sent to Rwanda, according to the National Audit Office.

Labour MP Neil Coyle (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) said: "Virgin Galactic can send six people into space for less than this Government wants to spend sending one person to Rwanda."Shadow paymaster general Jonathan Ashworth described the plan as a “gimmick” and said it would be cheaper to put up migrants in a luxury hotel.

The Labour frontbencher said: “This plan, this proposal from the Government is really a gimmick costing over half-a-billion pounds.

“It would actually be cheaper to put up the failed asylum seekers in the Paris Ritz for a number of years than this scheme.

“Obviously the Government are going to get their legislation through, they’ll get flights taking off, but it’s something like less than 1% of the total number of asylum seekers, yet costing half-a-billion.”

He continued: “I think it’d be much better and more prudent to use that money, that half-a-billion pounds, and put that money into a proper cross-border policing operation.”

“We think there is a better way to spend that money in order to put in place the policing and security services that we think are able to go after these gangs, smash these criminals smuggling gangs, and bring order to the border there,” the politician added.