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Rwanda Bill Stuck In Parliament Until After Easter

Rishi Sunak's flagship Rwanda Bill faces continued delays in parliament (Alamy)

4 min read

Rishi Sunak's flagship Rwanda Bill will remain caught in parliamentary "ping-pong" until after Easter recess as peers in the House of Lords increasingly believe a new set of amendments to the legislation could scrape through.

All changes Lords make to the bill on Wednesday evening will be returned to the Commons for approval by MPs, which could push further wrangling over the controversial legislation back several more weeks.

While it is widely expected that the Bill will ultimately pass, there are still several areas of contention between the two houses.

The first vote signalled a defeat for the government, as peers voted to back an amendment that would force the government to give regard to international law. 

Peers spent Tuesday revising and redrafting amendments to the Safety of Rwanda Bill – the legislation designed to realise the government’s plans to send asylum seekers to the African country – before it is put before them again this afternoon.

Amendments that have made their way onto the paper for consideration include a request that the government have “due regard for domestic and international law,” replacing peers’ previous demand that ministers maintain “full compliance with domestic and international law”. 

Another, which aims to give domestic courts the power to prevent or delay removing somebody to Rwanda, states that it will be for “no longer than is strictly necessary”. 

It is understood that after the first round of Lords amendments were rejected by the Commons, peers have narrowed their focus in the hope that the government could be prepared to give some ground. 

The Safety of Rwanda Bill declares Rwanda a safe country, as the government’s previous attempts to send asylum seekers to the country have been caught up by challenges in both domestic and international courts. 

In November, the Supreme Court dismissed a government appeal and found that the scheme was unlawful on the grounds that it could potentially breach the rule that asylum-seekers cannot be sent back to their country of origin if their life is at risk.  

The Bill is currently in the middle of a process known as ping-pong, where it bounces between the Lords and the Commons while amendments are added and then subsequently stripped out again. 

Some Lords sources believe that peers will give their backing to a number of amendments on Wednesday evening, meaning the legislation has to go before the Commons again. 

However, others believe that the chances of that will depend entirely on the strength of the Conservative whipping operation. 

The last time the Lords voted on amendments to the Rwanda bill, the government was defeated on a number of occasions by more than 100 votes, and by at least 44 on all of the votes passed. 

Conservative whips will be keen to get as many peers attending as possible ahead of Wednesday’s session. While the number of Tory rebels expected to abate in the upcoming round of votes, any who choose to abstain and not register a vote could help those opposing the government to reach the threshold for amendments to pass. 

So far, the government has been unwilling to accept any of the Lords’ amendments to the legislation. There is uncertainty over when the Bill will be given to MPs to look at again if Lords approve more amendments tonight. 

If next stages do run on after the Easter break, there has been some bewilderment among parliamentary sources as to why it was not scheduled to be brought back ahead of recess. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, there is nothing in the parliamentary business to suggest that the Bill will get any more time in the Commons before MPs rise for recess next Tuesday. Downing Street said on Wednesday that Leader of the House Penny Mordaunt will lay out future business in her regular statement on Thursday. 

The votes today in the Lords are expected to begin late afternoon and run into the early evening. 

Yesterday PoliticsHome reported that one peer believed many in the upper house wanted to just “get it out of the way” and leave the government to face the consequences of any perceived weaknesses in the legislation. 

“Let them get on with it because as far as I'm concerned, once they get it away from us their troubles start, not finish," they said. 

“If they're so desperate to get it, 'let them have it' is my view, and let them see what happens.”

Downing Street said earlier this week that they are confident of being able to send flights to Rwanda soon. 

“We expect the first flights to take off in the Spring, and that timeline remains unchanged whether the bill is passed before or after Easter,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said on Tuesday morning.  


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