The Telegraph 2024-03-21 10:00:41


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Government suffers clean sweep of seven Rwanda defeats in House of Lords

Rwanda flights are set to be delayed as the Lords inflicted a series of heavy defeats on Rishi Sunak’s landmark legislation, pushing back the passage of his Bill until after Easter.

Peers refused to pass the legislation and voted by majorities of between 30 and 55 to reinstate seven amendments to the legislation. It will now have to be considered again by MPs when they return from their Easter recess on April 15. The Commons had rejected all 10 of the Lords’ previous amendments on Monday.

The delay of nearly a month in the legislation is likely to push back the first deportation flights from May into June although the Government insisted last night the plan remained “on track”. Ministers still hope to get the first flights off this spring, which technically ends on June 20.

Last night, James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, attacked Labour for trying to delay the Bill and called for an “end to the talking” so the lives of migrants could be saved. 

“While Labour and their allies try anything to delay, disrupt or destroy that plan, people are risking their lives in the hands of people who don’t care if they die as long as they pay. The talking needs to end so we can get on with the job of saving lives and stopping the boats,” he said.

The Bill is central to the Prime Minister’s pledge to stop the boats and his electoral fortunes by getting the first deportation flights off to Rwanda after almost two years’ delay from legal challenges. 

The Home Office has identified 150 migrants for the first two deportation flights who will be handed their deportation notices within days of the Bill gaining royal assent. They could be flown to Rwanda in six to 10 weeks following the appeals process required by law. Ministers are aiming to deport 5,000 in the first year.

Frustration

Tory MPs voiced frustration at the delay on Wednesday night. One senior backbencher said: “The Prime Minister called this emergency legislation almost four months ago. If this is what emergency legislation looks like, I’d hate to think what business as usual is.

“If the Government was serious it would keep the Lords up through the night and do continuous round upon round of ping pong. Going slow is a disgrace when the situation in the Channel is so bad.”

Another former minister said: “The Bill is now programmed to come back to us and be done and dusted by the end of the first week back after Easter. But I am surprised the Government didn’t quicken the pace to get it through before the Easter recess.”

One Tory critic of the Prime Minister suggested it was a deliberate tactic as Mr Sunak would not want his Rwanda policy to be seen to be failing in May at a time of maximum danger for his leadership following the local elections.

The Lords’ defeats provide the biggest confrontation between the Upper House and Commons since Mr Sunak became Prime Minister. Only one Tory peer rebelled – Lord Clarke, the former chancellor – but the Government failed to get enough of its peers out to beat off Labour, Lib Dem and crossbench lords.

It came as 450 migrants crossed the Channel on Wednesday, the highest number so far this year. It took the total this year to almost 4,000, similar to last year’s total at the same point.

Government sources indicated that ministers will resist the Lords’ proposed changes to the Bill after branding them “wrecking” amendments.

“The Government still believes the Bill is in the place it needs to be,” said a source. “Any amendments that delay, disrupt or sabotage the Bill are not going to fly and we want to fly.”

Bill is ‘on track’ for Royal Assent

A No 10 source said: “We’re very much on track with the timetable for Royal Assent and therefore delivery regardless of whether it wraps up before or after Easter.”

One set of amendments reinstated a requirement for the Bill to have “due regard” for international law and restored the jurisdiction of domestic courts and their ability to take into account the safety of Rwanda. 

A second set required Rwanda to be independently shown to be safe before flights can take off. A third set added protections for victims of modern slavery, children in disputed age cases and exempted Afghans who worked with the British from deportation to Rwanda.

Lord Coaker, Labour’s frontbench spokesman on home affairs, accused the Government of flouting constitutional convention in rejecting “carte blanche” changes made by the Lords to the Rwanda Bill.

He said the Government was in “chaos” and “shambles” over the handling of its Rwanda policy after ditching plans to bring the Bill back next week instead of delaying it until after Easter. “That’s not our fault it’s coming back after Easter, it’s the Government’s own management of its own timetable,” he said.

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