Mounting pressure over Rwanda Bill amid concerns 'thousands' of asylum seekers 'lost'

Rishi Sunak.
The Rwanda Bill will return to the Commons on Tuesday. Credit: PA

The government is facing increased pressure over its Rwanda Bill ahead of its return to the Commons on Tuesday and amid concerns over alleged missing asylum seekers.

Labour accused Home Secretary James Cleverly of appearing to “have lost thousands of people” and failing to get a grip of the issue.

Shadow Home Office minister Stephen Kinnock said the Home Office has lost contact with 85% of the 5,000 people identified for removal to Rwanda - meaning 4,250 have allegedly gone missing.

Shadow Home Office minister Stephen Kinnock said: "The shambolic incompetence of this government across every aspect of its disgraceful mismanagement of our country’s asylum system knows no bounds, but today I will highlight a particularly egregious example.

“We already knew that removal of asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected have collapsed by 50% since Labour left office in 2010, but over the weekend it emerged that the Home Office has lost contact with an astonishing 85% of the 5,000 people who have been identified for removal to Rwanda.

“Can I ask the home secretary where on earth are these 4,250 asylum seekers who have gone missing?”

Mr Cleverly said MPs on his side of the House of Commons “are absolutely united in our desire” to tackle immigration as he defended the Bill.

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The development came as the prime minister faces increasing pressure from his own MPs over the Bill. On a visit to Essex, Rishi Sunak said he was "talking to all my colleagues" as he tries to calm divisions in the party over the legislation.

A total of 56 Tory MPs have publicly backed right-wing amendments to the Bill.

MPs on the right of the Tory Party want the Bill to go further in stopping legal appeals against deportation, but MPs in the One Nation group fear the Bill undermines domestic and international law.

Despite pressure from factions within the party last month, the prime minister avoided a rebellion as the Bill passed by 313 votes to 269.

But the divisions are set to be dragged back into the open this week as Mr Sunak faces crucial votes on the Rwanda policy.

On Monday, it emerged that Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson is considering joining a possible rebellion.

Rebel sources said Mr Anderson had told colleagues he intends to defy the government by supporting right-wing amendments to the Bill.

When asked whether he would sack Mr Anderson if he sided with the rebels, the prime minister would not comment, instead replying: "I know everyone's frustrated... I'm confident the Bill we've got is the toughest that anyone has ever seen and it will resolve the issue once and for all."

The prime minister insisted the Bill was 'the toughest piece of migration legislation that Parliament has ever seen'

The amendments gaining support among backbenchers were tabled by Robert Jenrick, who resigned as immigration minister over the legislation, and veteran Tory Sir Bill Cash.

Mr Anderson has not commented publicly, but rebel sources said they had been told he will back the amendments brought by Sir Bill and Mr Jenrick if they are selected.

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch, who is popular among the Tory grassroots, is also understood to have called for asylum seekers to be prevented from lodging individual legal appeals against their removals to Kigali.

The prime minister's spokesperson assured reporters this afternoon that Mr Sunak is confident the Bill will stop people crossing the Channel, saying: "This Bill is carefully crafted to provide the necessary deterrent."

Mr Sunak told GB News he would be prepared to overrule legal injunctions from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), called Rule 39 orders.

He said: "I don't think Strasbourg will intervene because of the checks and balances in our system, but of course there will be individual circumstances that people will want us to consider on the facts.

"If you're asking me are there circumstances in which I’m prepared to ignore those rule 39s, then, yes, of course there are."

The small boats crisis came back into headlines over the weekend after five people died trying to cross the Channel from France.

It comes after the first crossings of the year were recorded on Saturday, with 124 people arriving in three boats.

It came after the longest gap in small boat crossings for five years. Before Saturday, arrivals had not been recorded since December 16.

The number of migrants crossing the Channel has fallen year-on-year for the first time since current records began in 2018, with total arrivals in 2023 down more than a third on 2022.

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