Minister urges MPs and peers to back Rwanda bill as likely final day of debate begins

<span>Rishi Sunak told reporters the bill would pass parliament in Monday’s session no matter what.</span><span>Photograph: WPA/Getty Images</span>
Rishi Sunak told reporters the bill would pass parliament in Monday’s session no matter what.Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

Michael Tomlinson has urged MPs and peers to back the government’s Rwanda bill before what is likely to be a marathon final day of parliamentary debate for its long-delayed asylum scheme.

The minister for countering illegal migration told the Commons that the government was determined to pass the bill unamended, despite several attempts by members of the House of Lords to make changes to it.

MPs are expected to knock down two amendments from the Lords within hours, sending the bill back to the upper chamber for approval.

With Rishi Sunak promising to keep Conservative MPs in the Commons for as long as it takes to pass the bill, many officials are expecting a long night as the bill passes backwards and forwards.

Tomlinson told MPs at the start of the debate: “It’s disappointing we’re back here again … [Labour] have told the British people that they oppose our tougher immigration legislation. Enough is enough. The opposition have delayed this bill for too long. We must get on with it.”

His words echoed those of Sunak, who said earlier in the day that the bill would pass parliament in Monday’s session no matter what. He said he expected deportation flights to begin taking off for Rwanda in 10 to 12 weeks – marking another delay to the government’s deadline of spring.

Officials say they expect royal assent to be granted this week.

“Enough is enough,” Sunak said. “No more prevarication, no more delay. Parliament will sit there tonight and vote no matter how late it goes. No ifs, no buts.”

He added: “Starting from the moment that the bill passes, we will begin the process of removing those identified for the first flight. We have prepared for this moment.”

Sunak has put the bill, which would deport all asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing, at the centre of his attempts to stop small boats crossing the Channel. Asked on Monday what he would count as success for the policy, the prime minister replied: “Success is when the boats have been stopped. That’s what the country expects.”

Many peers and MPs had hoped the government would offer concessions on the two remaining amendments – one aimed at exempting Afghans who have worked with the British military from the scheme, and one establishing a monitoring committee to certify Rwanda as safe before flights take off.

Stephen Kinnock, the shadow immigration minister, said Labour MPs would back both amendments, adding: “Respect and decency for anyone – whether it’s in relation to our nation to asylum seekers or indeed to the British taxpayer – is not something that this prime minister and his government hold in any regard whatsoever.”

Some Tory MPs are expected to rebel to back one or both amendments. Jeremy Wright, the former attorney general, told MPs during the debate: “This bill covers only the first determination of safety, and provides no mechanism for parliament to change its mind if circumstances change.”

Tomlinson insisted that the amendments were unnecessary, with officials warning that they expected any exemptions to be exploited by immigration lawyers looking for loopholes.

The minister told MPs the government would not remove anyone who was found to have credible links to the British forces in Afghanistan, adding that the home secretary had the power to overrule any individual deportation should he choose.

Sunak sought on Monday to blame Labour members in the House of Lords for the delay in passing the bill, even though the government previously decided not to push it through when there was parliamentary time available.

“If Labour peers had not spent weeks holding up the bill in the House of Lords to try to block these flights altogether, we would have begun this process weeks ago,” he said.

The prime minister said an airfield was on standby and that charter flights had been booked to take asylum seekers on the one-way trip to Rwanda within three months.

He said there was increased court capacity to deal with any legal cases “quickly and decisively”, including 25 courtrooms and 150 judges who could provide 5,000 sitting days.

The government has also increased detention spaces to 2,200 and tasked 500 officials with escorting people to Rwanda.

The Armenian foreign ministry has rejected a British government request to take part in a replica of the Rwanda scheme.

The UK is seeking a strategic partnership with Armenia, a former Soviet republic in the Caucuses, but it is understood that the proposal was rejected at a relatively medium-grade level partly on the basis that Armenia already has enough issues with refugees.

Armenia’s deputy foreign minister, Vahan Kostanyan, instead said he would like to see the UK do more to put pressure on Azerbaijan to reach a peace deal with Armenia.

He said: “The UK is maybe one of the few states that has real leverage on Azerbaijan and we believe the pressure could be more than it is, especially when it comes to issues that are absolute priorities for the UK and the rules-based order, and that is the issue of territorial integrity.”

British Petroleum has invested nearly $84bn in Azerbaijan since entering the country in the early 1990s.