Rwanda Bill stymied as defiant peers dig heels in and inflict fresh defeat

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

The House of Lords voted by 271 to 228, majority 43, to press their demand that the legislation has “due regard” for domestic and international law.

The latest Government setback 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.

It means there is little or no chance of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill clearing Parliament before MPs leave Westminster for the Easter break next Tuesday.

It has been claimed in Parliament dates set aside to consider further changes to the draft legislation before the recess have “disappeared”.

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

MPs overturned 10 amendments made by the Lords when the Bill was in the Commons on Monday, and ministers had urged the unelected chamber to agree to the legislation in its current form.

But peers look set to hold out in a bid to secure changes to the proposed law during so-called “ping pong”, where the Bill is batted between the two Houses until agreement is reached.

The legislation and a treaty with Rwanda are intended to prevent further legal challenges to the stalled deportation 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)

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.

“Who’s not respecting constitutional convention now?”

He also said the Commons would not now consider further changes to the legislation before the Easter break, with dates 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.”

Meanwhile, Government law officer Lord Stewart of Dirleton argued criticism of the Rwanda Bill was “fundamentally misconceived”.

He 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 added: “We cannot continue to allow relocations to Rwanda to be frustrated and delayed as a result of systemic challenges mounted on its general safety.”

Earlier 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.”