Rishi Sunak delays Rwanda flight plans as Downing Street refuses to commit to Spring

Rishi Sunak has been forced to abandon his commitment to get flights off the ground to Rwanda by the end of spring, in a serious blow to the prime minister’s flagship policy.

Downing Street has admitted that the policy is now facing delays as the Lords refused to back down on amendments to the bill, meaning the government will not set out a new timeline for the first flight to take off until it is passed into law.

The government had previously said on several occasions that flights would take off by the Spring, but the prime minister’s spokesperson has now repeatedly declined to recommit to the original timetable.

Mr Sunak’s spokesman said: “The timetable that we had previously set out factored in plenty of time for parliamentary debate but obviously the bill has continued to be delayed.

“We will set out the timeline as soon as the bill passes through the House of Lords. The Lords did hold the bill up again last night, we are working at pace to get the bill passed and get flights off.”

The Rwanda Bill is set to face another round of back and forth between the two houses of Parliament next week after defiant peers snubbed ministerial calls to back down and again insisted on revisions to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill.

The fresh government defeats mean a continuation of wrangling at Westminster over the proposed law that aims to clear the way to send asylum seekers who cross the Channel in small boats on a one-way flight to Kigali.

The Bill and a treaty with Rwanda are intended to prevent further legal challenges to the stalled asylum scheme after the Supreme Court ruled the plan was unlawful.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has u-turned on plans for the first flight to Rwanda to take off in the spring (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has u-turned on plans for the first flight to Rwanda to take off in the spring (PA Wire)

As well as compelling judges to regard the east African country as safe, it would give ministers the power to ignore emergency injunctions.

But peers refused to back down, despite MPs overturning previous changes, renewing calls that Rwanda cannot be treated as a safe country until an independent monitoring body has verified that protections contained in the treaty are implemented.

The draft law will be sent back to the Commons, where MPs are set to consider the latest changes on Monday.

The government has insisted it will not be making concessions on changes to the Rwanda Bill requested by the House of Lords.

Peers on Wednesday again supported an exemption from removal for those who worked with the UK military or Government overseas, such as Afghan interpreters.

Asked whether ministers could move on that, the prime minister’s spokesman said: “The amendment is unnecessary.

“We already have safe and legal routes for people in this category. It’s one of the most generous safe and legal routes that we have, in fact.

“We are proud that we have relocated over 16,000 people to safety through the scheme so far.”

He said the amendment would “create an unnecessary and dangerous incentive for these people to travel here illegally, which is precisely what this Bill is trying to avoid.”

The conservatives have blamed Labour for the delays as Home Secretary James Cleverly accused the party of a “politically cynical” effort to scupper the Rwanda plan.

Labour said the government should stop wasting time and money on the “hare-brained scheme” and said that the legislation will not end the chaos “the Tories have created in our asylum system.”