MPs reject Rwanda Bill amendments as Sunak faces fresh battle with Lords over migrant plan

18 March 2024, 23:14 | Updated: 18 March 2024, 23:35

The government saw off 10 amendments from peers to the Safety of Rwanda Bill
The government saw off 10 amendments from peers to the Safety of Rwanda Bill. Picture: Alamy/Parliament TV

By Emma Soteriou

MPs have rejected 10 amendments to the Rwanda Bill, with Rishi Sunak set to face a fresh battle with the House of Lords over his migrant plan.

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Majorities ranged between 57 and 78 against the series of amendments - a relatively positive outcome for the government.

But the showdown is set to continue on Wednesday, when peers may once again attempt to make changes in a process known as "ping-pong".

Among the amendments overturned was an attempt to ensure the bill complies with domestic and international law and a requirement that Parliament cannot declare Rwanda to be a safe country until the treaty with its promised safeguards is fully implemented.

Peers also moved an amendment to exempt people from removal to Rwanda if they have worked with the UK armed forces or UK Government overseas.

Read more: Rwanda wants slow start to deportations - as spring deportations look unlikely as bill stalls in Parliament

Read more: Failed asylum seekers ‘to be offered thousands to move to Rwanda’ under new scheme drawn up by ministers

The Commons goes into its Easter recess on March 26, with peers heading away from Westminster a day later, meaning that if the Lords maintain their resistance to the legislation it is unlikely to pass before the break.

It could dampen Rishi Sunak's hopes of the first flights carrying asylum seekers taking place in spring.

"I've never told a public lie in all the 16 years of being Minister...I'm not going to tell one now" says Lord Deben

Home Office minister Michael Tomlinson said Rwanda has a "long and proud history" of integrating asylum seekers and refugees and said the UK Government had "published evidence" in support of Rwanda being a safe country.

But speaking on LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr on Monday, Lord Deben said: "The government has said that Rwanda will be safe, but isn't safe at the moment.

"They're asking me to vote that it is safe and I've never told a public lie in all the 16 years of being a minister. I'm not going to tell one now."

He added: "I want it to be constitutionally right. That's what the House of Lords is there for and that's the one time in which the House of Lords could properly stop a bill because it is unconstitutional."

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."

The scheme could cost taxpayers nearly £2 million for each of the first 300 asylum seekers sent to Rwanda, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

Cross Question panel debate: 'Should we talk about taking the asylum seekers to Australia?'

Ahead of the debate, Downing Street said the government believed it had "the right bill" and "it remains our plan to get it through as quickly as possible".

Officials "are identifying and have identified the cohort of people who will be the first to board flights" to Rwanda, No10 said.

"We're obviously continuing to work at pace on that, such that the first flights are ready to go in the weeks after the Bill passes," the PM's official spokesman said.

But officials believe there will be just enough time for Mr Sunak to meet his pledge of getting a plane in the air this spring.

Mr Sunak said: "I am still committed to the timeline that I set out previously, which is we aim to get a flight off in the spring.

"It's important that we get the Rwanda scheme up and running because we need to have a deterrent.

"We need to make it clear that if you come here illegally, you won't be able to stay and we will be able to remove you. That is the only way to properly solve the issue of illegal migration.

"We've made good progress. Boat numbers were down by a third last year. That shows that our plan is working, but in order to finish the job, we need the Rwanda scheme through."

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