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Rwanda Bill stand-off as defiant peers inflict a fresh round of defeats

Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda deportation plan has been hit by further delay after defiant peers dug their heels in and inflicted a series of fresh defeats against the controversial policy.

MPs rejected a raft of changes made to the draft legislation by the House of Lords earlier this week and ministers urged the unelected chamber to allow it to become law.

But peers have again pressed their demands for revisions to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, including overturning the bid to oust the courts from the process.

The latest Government setbacks means a continuation of the stand-off 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.

As such there is little chance of the Bill clearing Parliament before MPs leave Westminster for the Easter break next Tuesday.

It was claimed at Westminster that dates set aside to consider further changes to the draft legislation before the recess have “disappeared”.

However, No 10 officials have insisted even if the legislation is not passed until after Easter, the Prime Minister can still meet his goal of having the first deportation flights take off this spring.

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.

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

Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda deportation plan has been hit by a further delay in the Lords (James Manning/PA)

But the Lords has again insisted on an amendment to restore the jurisdiction of domestic courts in relation to the safety of Rwanda and enable them to intervene.

Peers also renewed their demand for the Bill to have “due regard” for domestic and international law and that Rwanda can only be declared safe when the protections in the treaty are fully implemented and while they remain in place.

Other changes included moves to reduce the risk of unaccompanied children being sent to Rwanda and a block on the removal of victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, as well as those who worked with the UK military or government overseas, such as Afghan interpreters.

The seven defeats ensures a further round of “ping-pong” over the Bill, where legislation is batted between the two Houses until agreement is reached.

Refugee campaigner and Labour peer Lord Dubs, who fled the Nazis as a child on the Kindertransport scheme, said: “To send a child wrongly assessed as being an adult to Rwanda would be an appalling dereliction of our responsibilities to vulnerable young people.”

Backing the Bill, Tory former cabinet minister Lord Lilley pointed to a precedent for Parliament to declare certain countries as safe.

He said: “I think we’re making a bit too much of the lack of provisions and safeguards now about one black country, when we had no concerns about a list of white countries.”

Small boats used to cross the Channel by people thought to be migrants are removed from the water and documented at the Port of Dover in Kent before being taken away for storage
Rishi Sunak has pledged to stop the boats (PA)

Labour frontbencher Lord Coaker said: “It is not our intention to block the Bill but it is also part of constitutional convention that the other place (the Commons) reflects on what the Lords has said and doesn’t just carte blanche reject them, which is what has happened now.”

He also said the elected chamber would not now consider further changes to the legislation before the Easter break, with days set aside next week “gone, disappeared”.

Lord Coaker said: “What’s going on – chaos, shambles, no idea.”

He added: “That’s not our fault it’s coming back after Easter, it’s the Government’s own management of its own timetable.”

Arguing the need for the legislation, Government law officer Lord Stewart of Dirleton said: “We cannot allow people to make such dangerous crossings and we must do what we can to prevent any more lives from being lost at sea.

“Neither can we allow our asylum and legal systems to be overwhelmed, our public services to be stretched or the British taxpayer to continue to fund millions of pounds spent every day on hotel costs.”

He told peers: “It is the Government and not the courts who are accountable. The courts are accountable to no-one. They pride themselves on that.

“But accountability is at the heart of democracy. That is why the Government are fully entitled to bring forward the Bill and why much of the criticism directed at them for doing so is fundamentally misconceived.”