Sunak's Rwanda plan survives as MPs vote to approve Bill

MPs have been debating the Safety of Rwanda Bill, which seeks to rule the African nation as a safe third country for deporting asylum seekers, ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks reports

Rishi Sunak's policy to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda has survived its latest Commons hurdle after MPs voted to approve it - but it could still be many months before asylum seekers are relocated to the African nation.

Despite suggestions right-wing Tories could kill the Safety of Rwanda Bill, the government won the vote with 320 approving it and 276 rejecting it.

The Bill was introduced in a bid to satisfy the Supreme Court which ruled last year that asylum seekers could not be deported to Rwanda because it was not considered safe.

Backbenchers on the right of the Conservative Party, such as former home secretary Suella Braverman and ex-Home Office minister Robert Jenrick who both resigned in protest in November, wanted the Bill 'strengthening'.

But the prime minister managed to get the plan approved without bowing to their demands, which included amending the Bill to disapply the Human Rights Act in regards to Rwanda deportations.

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The policy must now be approved by in the House of Lords before it can become legislation and it is likely it would face a number of legal challenges ahead of any potential deportations.

But a Lords committee has already raised issues with the idea that Rwanda has become safer since the Supreme Court ruled.

The House of Lords International Agreements Committee said safeguards in the agreement with Kigali are “incomplete” and do not overcome the Supreme Court’s concerns about the plan.

It said “significant legal and practical steps” must be taken before Rwanda can be deemed safe.

Measures required, peers said, include a new asylum law in Rwanda; training for international judges in Rwandan law and practice; a process for submitting individual complaints to the monitoring committee; and training for Rwandan officials dealing with asylum applicants.

A system is also needed for ensuring that those deported to the east African nation are not subsequently transferred to a country where they could be at risk, a principle known as non-refoulement.

Deporting asylum seekers is a central pillar of the prime minister's flagship policy to cut illegal migration by "stopping the boats", however critics say the plan which has already cost hundreds of millions will not have the desired effect.

The government has so far spent £240 million on the deportation deal with Rwanda and has allocated another £50 million for next year.

But Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said the country has “no obligation” to return any of the funds paid, even if no asylum seekers are ever relocated there.

She said in a statement: “The funds paid to Rwanda under the Migration and Economic Development Partnership are intended to both support Rwanda’s economic development, and to allow us to prepare to receive and care for the migrants when they arrive.

“Under the terms of the agreement, Rwanda has no obligation to return any of the funds paid. However, if no migrants come to Rwanda under the scheme, and the UK government wishes to request a refund of the portion of the funding allocated to support the migrants, we will consider this request.

“To talk about figures at this point is premature, as we are still awaiting the conclusion of the UK legislative process and remain committed to making the partnership work.”

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