Rwanda Bill: Rishi Sunak’s flagship small boats plan hit by new delay as peers dig in against Commons

Peers have delayed the passing of Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda Bill until next week in the latest blow to the Prime Minister’s small boats plan.

The House of Lords on Wednesday night snubbed ministerial calls to back down over the flagship migrant deportation proposals and insisted on a number of amendments to the policy.

It is expected that MPs will now consider the changes on Monday, dashing Downing Street’s hopes of getting the new laws though the Commons this week.

Earlier on Wednesday MPs overturned attempts by the House of Lords to dilute the Rwanda Bill - but peers dug in their heels and have put forward even more changes.

Number 10 said it was unwilling to concede any ground on the areas that concern Lords.

Four amendments, inserted by peers on Tuesday, were rejected by the Commons.

Revisions that would require Afghans who served with British troops to be exempt from deportation, and restoring the jurisdiction of domestic courts in relation to the safety of Rwanda were tossed out.

An amendment that would mean Rwanda cannot be treated as a safe country until an independent monitoring body has verified as such was also rejected - and the legislation sent back to the Lords.

But the upper chamber voted 245 to 208 that the African nation cannot be considered a safe country until protections are in place. In a further blow, they backed an exemption from deportation for those who had previously worked with the UK military, such as Afghan interpreters.

The Lords' insistence on the amendments ensures a fourth round of "ping-pong", where a Bill is batted between the two Houses until an agreement is reached, and it will now have to be sent back to the Commons for MPs to consider the latest changes for a fourth time.

Mr Sunak’s controversial proposal seeks to clear the way to put asylum seekers who cross the Channel on flights to Kigali.

The PM has made “stopping the boats” a key pledge of his leadership. Ministers have said that Rwanda deportation flights will take off “this spring”, despite the ongoing fight over the new laws.

Earlier on Wednesday Home Office minister Michael Tomlinson said the Lords' amendments to the Bill were in two categories, telling the Commons: "Those that are simply unnecessary and those that are worse than unnecessary, they're wrecking amendments; they're deliberately put in in order to prevent the very things that the Bill is designed to do, namely to stop the boats and to get the planes off the ground."

He urged peers to relent in their opposition.

"We have made it abundantly clear that our priority is to stop the boats, we simply cannot stand by and allow people smugglers to control who enters our country and to see more lives being lost at sea,” he said.

"We have an obligation to the public and to those who are being exploited by criminal gangs to stop this vile trade and to protect our borders.

"Letting this Bill pass now will send a clear signal that if you come to the United Kingdom illegally you will not be able to stay.”

But SNP home affairs spokeswoman Alison Thewliss said that even with the Lords’ amendments “the Rwanda Bill is a turd which cannot be polished, it is absolutely disgusting and objectionable in every sense”.

Labour MP Naz Shah said it was a "sick joke" that ministers would vote down plans to prevent Afghan refugees being deported to Rwanda.

The Bradford West MP said: "It does smack to me of a bit of a sick joke if that on one hand we are talking about bringing Afghan refugees here, but on the other hand, this Government will be voting down the noble Lords amendment for Afghans who actually supported us, our British armed forces, that could be packed off to Rwanda.

"My question is really simple. How do we show a moral stance on the issue today when the Government will be voting down that amendment for Afghans who are at risk?"

Foreign Office minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan replied: "I think really importantly, and she raises the question of those who worked and serviced alongside our armed forces or in other areas, those two schemes, incredibly generous schemes, Arap and ACRS are there precisely to be able to provide the opportunity to those who wish to apply, who are eligible to come, and have safe harbour in the UK."