PM unable to guarantee Rwanda flights will take off before election

The prime minister has insisted the Conservative Party is 'completely united' on his Rwanda plan. ITV News' Political Correspondent Harry Horton reports

Rishi Sunak has said he is unable to guarantee flights would take off for Rwanda before the next general election, despite his flagship policy passing a key vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday night.

He insisted the Conservative Party is "completely united" on his Rwanda plan, even after he lost a number of government colleagues over it.

The plan is one step closer to fruition after clearing its latest Commons hurdle, despite right-wing Tory opposition, however it must now be approved in the House of Lords and will likely face numerous legal challenges before migrants are deported to Rwanda.

Holding a press conference at Downing Street, Sunak urged the House of Lords to allow it to pass unamended.

He said they should “do the right thing” and not “try to frustrate the will of the people” by blocking the Bill.

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He said: “There is now only one question.

“Will the opposition in the appointed House of Lords try and frustrate the will of the people as expressed by the elected House, or will they get on board and do the right thing?

“It’s as simple as that.”

A majority of MPs voted for the Safety of Rwanda Bill, which seeks to rule the African nation as a safe third country for asylum seekers in a bid to satisfy the Supreme Court which blocked the plan last year.

The prime minister has suffered numerous government resignations over the Bill, first by his former home secretary Suella Braverman and ex-Home Office minister Robert Jenrick, who were followed on Tuesday evening by two departing deputy party chairmen.

Mr Sunak, however, said “the Conservative Party is completely united in wanting to deliver for the country, cut their taxes and, crucially, to stop the boats".

There were reportedly up to 60 Tory MPs who wanted the Bill "strengthening" because they claimed it would continue to be blocked by the courts unless the Human Rights Act was disapplied in regards to Rwanda.

Had they all rejected the Bill they could have inflicted a highly damaging defeat on the PM, but in the end just 11 Conservative MPs rebelled and the government won the vote with a majority of 44.

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.

Labour's Shadow Immigration Minister Stephen Kinnock said the press conference today was "bizarre" and he couldn't see the point of it.

Mr Kinnock described Rishi Sunak as a "weak prime minister leading a deeply divided party", with "shambolic, warring factions".

He said: "If you can only send one percent of people coming across the channel to Rwanda, that is never going to be a deterrent.

"You're dealing with people who have risked life and limb, who are at risk of violence and persecution, they're going to take a one percent risk of possibly going to Rwanda".

'I've just been at a slightly unusual press conference': Political Editor Robert Peston looks what's new on the Rwanda policy

What’s next for the Rwanda policy?

Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda Bill has been passed by MPs, but it still has a long way to go before flights can take off.

Now the Bill has passed through the Commons, it will move to the House of Lords. 

The Lords could choose to pass the legislation unchanged however they may vote for amendments and send it back to the Commons for further consideration.

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

It doesn’t look like the Bill will pass this whole process until the end of March, and even then it will take some time for flight arrangements to be made.

But, even if flights do take off, the prime minister still has to show the policy is actually stopping more people crossing the Channel.

Some 358 migrants crossed the channel on Wednesday, as MPs debated the Rwanda legislation, just days after five migrants died in water while attempting the perilous journey.

This brings the total number of crossings this year to 621.

The UK has so far spent £240 million on the deportation deal with Rwanda and has allocated another £50 million for next year but no-one has been deported there and a government spokesperson has said there is no obligation to return the money if the deal does not materialise.

Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said: “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."

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