The two issues delaying Rishi Sunak's Rwanda Bill

Rishi Sunak has said 'enough is enough' as he tries to end the parliamentary stalemate delaying his Rwanda bill.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak holds an Illegal Migration Operations Committee meeting in Downing Street, London. Mr Sunak will urge peers to back his Rwanda plan ahead of crunch votes on the legislation aimed at making the plan to send asylum seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda legally watertight. Picture date: Monday April 22, 2024.
Prime minister Rishi Sunak has insisted 'enough is enough' as he tries to end the parlimentary impasse over his Rwanda bill. (Alamy)

Rishi Sunak has said there must be "no more delay" as he faces a showdown with the House of Lords over his controversial Rwanda bill.

The legislation, which if passed would allow anyone "entering the UK illegally" to be deported to Rwanda under a deal with the East African country, is facing delays in a so-called game of parliamentary "ping pong".

Peers in the upper house have repeatedly sent back the legislation with a series of amendments, stretching debate on the “emergency legislation” over more than four months and delaying deportation flights for asylum seekers.

On Monday, MPs are expected to vote to overturn those changes before sending the bill back to the House of Lords, where some peers may attempt to insist on their amendments again.

In a press conference on Monday morning, Sunak said: "Enough is enough. No more prevarication. No more delay. Parliament will sit there tonight and vote no matter how late it goes. No ifs, no buts, these flights are going to Rwanda."

There are now two main objections by peers behind the parliamentary impasse.

1. Protection to Afghans who served in UK military

Peers amended the bill again last week to include an exemption for Afghan nationals who assisted British troops.

As well as opposition MPs, some Tories are also reportedly "uncomfortable" with the idea of no concessions for this group. Labour peer Des Browne told the Guardian he can "barely walk five yards" through the Houses of Parliament without Conservative members stopping him to express their concerns.

“They can’t understand why the government couldn’t concede something on this. I don’t understand why they’re not more questioning about the implications of this for our security and for our own armed forces," he said.

The Afghan amendment would also exempt close family members of these Afghan nationals from deportation, some of whom have crossed the Channel on small boats, which the government views as an illegal form of entry.

An Afghan intelligence analyst, who worked alongside members of the RAF but has now been threatened with removal, called on the government to "stand by the promise they made during the fall of Kabul", the Independent reported.

Deputy foreign secretary Andrew Mitchell told Times Radio that while the UK has an "absolute obligation" to Afghan interpreters and people who served the British military. However, he said the Lords' amendment is not "necessary", as the Arap (Afghan relocations and assistance policy) scheme has provided 16,100 Afghans settlement in the UK.

2. Independent body should decide on Rwanda safety

Last week also saw the Lords agree on an amendment declaring that Rwanda cannot be deemed a safe country unless it is verified by an independent monitoring body.

This is a major sticking point for Sunak's government, as the Supreme Court ruled in November that the scheme could not be lawful due to Rwanda's poor human rights record, institutional defects and a record of sending claimants back to conflict zones.

Sunak's current bill, if passed, would sidestep this by officially deeming Rwanda a safe country.

In December home secretary James Cleverly told Parliament that the treaty "makes clear that anyone relocated to Rwanda cannot be removed from Rwanda to another country except back to the United Kingdom".

A group of migrants disembark from a UK Border Force boat at the port of Dover having being picked up crossing the English Channel from France on April 15, 2022, at Dover, on the south-east coast of England. - Britain will send migrants and asylum seekers who cross the Channel thousands of miles away to Rwanda under a controversial deal announced Thursday as the government tries to clamp down on record numbers of people making the perilous journey. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)
A group of migrants leave a UK Border Force boat at the port of Dover. (Getty Images)

Lord Carlile, who opposes the bill, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Rwanda had "not yet complied with the treaty" it signed with the UK.

Defending the nation's record, Mitchell told the programme: “Some of the discussions which have gone on in the Lords about the judicial arrangements, legal arrangements within Rwanda, have been patronising and, in my view, border on racism.

"We don’t think it’s necessary to have that amendment either and that the necessary structures are in place to ensure that the scheme works properly and fairly.”

Mitchell added that “if you look at the statistics, Kigali is arguably safer than London", adding that Rwandan president Paul Kagame is leading a “remarkable regime”.

Is Rishi Sunak right to blame Labour peers?

The prime minister remained defiant on Monday morning as he said the Rwanda deportation scheme will get off the ground – “no ifs, not buts”.

At a Downing Street press conference, he laid the blame squarely at the at the official opposition, claiming that if Labour peers “had not spent weeks holding up this bill”, then “we would have begun this process weeks ago”.
How Lords voted on an ammendment to protect Aghan nationals. (UK Parliament)

However, critics were quick to point out that the Conservative Party has 278 peers in the House of Lords, not all of whom voted against the proposed amendments, while Labour only has 172.

Voting records from the upper house show a number of crossbench peers and those from other parties have also voted for the amendments, suggesting opposition to the Rwanda scheme extends well beyond the Labour Party.

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