Rwanda bill further delayed after Lords again votes for changes | Immigration and asylum


The parliamentary battle over Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda deportation bill will spill into next week after the Lords refused to budge over the rights of Afghans and scrutiny of the treatment of refugees in east Africa.

The move prompted an immediate backlash from the home secretary, James Cleverly, who blamed Labour for blocking the bill and being “terrified” that the Rwanda plan would stop asylum seekers from travelling to the UK in small boats.

Following further parliamentary “ping pong” on Wednesday, the upper house backed two amendments and sent the bill back to the Commons, where it will be re-examined on Monday. The first amendment insisted on allowing parliament to decide whether Rwanda is safe, while the second exempted Afghans who helped British troops from deportation to Rwanda.

Peers voted against the flagship bill for a fourth time and sparked immediate recriminations, as Tories blamed Labour for delaying the government’s plan to “stop the boats” from becoming law.

Cleverly said: “Terrified that the Rwanda scheme will work, and desperate to delay or disrupt over a hundred votes about stopping the boats, Labour have acted again to block the passage of the Rwanda bill.

“It’s been another politically cynical effort by them, who have no alternative deterrent and no plan to tackle illegal migration, to frustrate the only solution on offer. Labour, uncomfortable with tackling immigration, will clearly stop at nothing to stop the planes.”

Peers voted by 245 to 208 in favour of Lord Hope’s amendment that would allow flights to take off only once the home secretary had the right to review Rwanda’s status as a safe country for refugees.

The Lords agreed to a measure by the crossbench peer requiring Rwanda to pass independent verification before it was considered safe.

Hope told peers that his amendment must be inserted because under the current wording, even the home secretary would not have the power to overturn the claim that Rwanda is safe.

“The minister has told you that the government are not obligated by the treaty to send anybody to Rwanda if the facts change,” he said. “That may well be so, but that is not what the bill says. The secretary of state is bound by the statute to ignore any such changes.”

A short time later, the upper chamber inflicted a further defeat, backing by 247 votes to 195 an exemption from removal for those who worked with the UK military or government overseas, such as Afghan interpreters.

The majorities by which the two amendments passed have increased since Tuesday, prompting recriminations among Conservative peers. One told the Guardian that the whipping operation had been a “joke”, while another said that the government should have made a concession.

The Labour peer Lord Coaker said it was “morally bankrupt” of the government not to prevent Afghan interpreters from being deported.

The development comes after 24 hours of parliamentary wrangling in both houses of parliament. Peers voted to amend the legislation for a third time on Tuesday, further prolonging a bicameral battle over the law intended to clear the way for asylum seekers who cross the Channel in small boats to be deported to Rwanda.

On Tuesday night, Labour and Tory whips discussed a possible compromise over the deportation of Afghan troops, the Guardian has been told. But sources said that No 10 intervened on Wednesday to quash the plan.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “We’re not considering concessions. We believe that the bill as it stands is the right way forward.”

MPs on Wednesday afternoon stripped out all seven amendments that peers had made to the bill before the Easter recess. The Commons made one concession to the Lords and backed the government’s amendment on publishing an annual report on modern slavery.

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