Lords keep Rwanda bill in parliamentary deadlock in blow to Rishi Sunak

GV of House of Commons. Credit: Aaron Chown/PA Wire/PA Images
Credit: PA

Lords have rejected ministerial pleas to end the parliamentary deadlock over the Rwanda bill after insisting on making changes to Rishi Sunak's key policy on Wednesday evening.

In two votes peers voted to maintain their insistence on two changes to the Safety of Rwanda Bill with majorities of 37 and 52.

The peers insisted on placing an exemption from removal for those who worked with the UK military or Government overseas, such as Afghan interpreters and a requirement that the east African country cannot be treated as safe until promised protections are in place.

Earlier Home Office minister Michael Tomlinson said allowing the government to pass now would "send a clear signal that if you come to the United Kingdom illegally you will not be able to stay."

Wednesday's vote keeps the bill locked in parliamentary ping-pong where the Commons has passed it to the Lords, who in turn send it back with a few recommended changes with MPs then rejecting them.

Michael Tomlinson urged Lords to back down. Credit: PA

Downing Street has ruled out making concessions on the legislation, despite reports ministers were considering making tweaks to ensure its passage, including exemptions for Afghan nationals who assisted British forces.

Earlier on Wednesday as MPs rejected four amendments to the bill, Mr Tomlinson said he had an “optimistic hope” that his contribution might be his “last opportunity” to speak on it.

He added: “We have made it abundantly clear that our priority is to stop the boats, we simply cannot stand by and allow people smugglers to control who enters our country and to see more lives being lost at sea."

Rishi Sunak has made passing the bill a key part of his leadership. Credit: PA

MPs also rejected a requirement that Rwanda cannot be treated as a safe country until an independent monitoring body has verified that protections contained in the treaty are fully implemented and remain in place.

Mr Sunak has made “stopping the boats” a key pledge of his leadership and sees the Rwanda scheme as a vital deterrent to Channel crossings.

The prime minister has previously said he hopes the flights can begin before the end of spring.

Treasury minister Laura Trott told Sky News there were "lots of definitions of spring" amid concerns the goal might not be met due to the prolonged legislative tussle.

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.

The Times reported the prime minister could use RAF Voyager aircraft for Rwanda deportation flights after the Home Office failed to find an airline that would charter the flights.

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