Amendments to the Rwanda Bill were overturned in a House of Commons vote

  • Written by Jennifer McKernan
  • BBC political correspondent

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is on a trip to Dover to promote the Stop the Boats policy

MPs have rejected changes made by the House of Lords to the Rwanda Bill, which aims to deport asylum seekers to the East African country.

All 10 amendments were rejected, including allowing courts to question Rwanda's integrity. The government insists Rwanda is safe.

The Supreme Court previously ruled that the Rwanda plan was illegal, on the grounds that it could lead to human rights violations.

Labor says each migration would cost as much as sending six people into space.

The proposed law aims to ensure the UK can deport asylum seekers to Rwanda by declaring it a safe place.

Michael Tomlinson, the Home Secretary, told the House of Commons on Monday that the Rwanda Safety (Asylum and Immigration) Bill was a “key component” of protecting the UK’s borders.

He said that the draft law does not conflict with the government's international obligations.

Tomlinson also criticized “systematic legal challenges” which he said continued to “frustrate and delay” removals.

Labour's Stephen Kinnock supported all of the Lords' amendments to the bill and said peers were doing their “patriotic duty” by scrutinizing the bills.

The shadow Home Office secretary said the government must give “due regard” to the High Court ruling, and claimed Conservative MPs were pushing through “ridiculous legislation” that “quite frankly turns our institutions into a laughing stock”.

Labor MP Neil Coyle asked whether Mr Tomlinson was aware of findings by the National Audit Office showing the scheme could cost taxpayers nearly £2 million for each of the first 300 asylum seekers sent to Rwanda.

“Does the Minister know that Virgin Galactic can send six people into space for less than what this government wants to spend to send one person to Rwanda?” He said.

“Isn't it time to rethink this absurd and costly policy?”

A Virgin Galactic flight to the edge of space for six people cost £2.14 million last summer.

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Legal challenges led to the first flight to Rwanda being canceled shortly before take-off in June 2022

Tory MP Richard Graham responded that critics of the cost “completely miss the point” that it would act as a “huge disincentive” for those who want to enter the UK for no real reason.

However, Robert Buckland, the former justice secretary, was one of the few Conservative rebels to back some of the Lords' amendments, saying he was concerned about “creating legal friction” over whether Rwanda was and remains a safe destination.

Sir Robert was also keen to stress his support for an amendment that would exempt those who assisted the British armed forces, such as Afghan translators, from deportation to Rwanda.

He said: “I expect the government to be very sensible and sensitive to the position of Afghan refugees and future refugees and not put them in this scheme, and it seems to me that it will lose nothing by adding this particular entry.”

MPs rejected all of the Lords' amendments in a series of votes by around 70 votes, meaning the bill will be sent back to the Lords in its original form.

On Wednesday, colleagues will decide whether to try to water down the bill again before Parliament's Easter recess.

Downing Street said it still believed there was time for deportation flights to Rwanda to begin before June.

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