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Government delays next Rwanda vote until after Easter recess amid record day for Channel crossings

The next stage of the Rwanda bill's progress has been delayed until after the Easter recess as it remains stuck in parliamentary limbo.

Wednesday was the busiest day for migrant crossings in the Channel this year with 514 people making the dangerous journey in 10 boats. More than 4,000 people are thought to have crossed from France so far in 2024.

There are three sitting days left in the Commons before the Easter break begins on 26 March, with MPs returning on 15 April.

The government is maintaining its position that it wants to get flights to Rwanda off the ground during the spring.

According to the Met Office, spring lasts either from 1 March to 31 May, if based on weather, or from 20 March to 20 June if based on the Earth's position around the sun.

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Rishi Sunak promised "emergency" legislation to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda after the government's previous attempts were blocked by the Supreme Court in November last year.

But the current Safety of Rwanda Bill is at the moment bouncing between the House of Commons and House of Lords in a process known as parliamentary ping pong.

The latest development was on Wednesday evening, when the Lords applied a set of seven changes to the bill and sent it back to the Commons. It came after the Commons stripped 10 changes previously applied by the Lords.

On Thursday morning, the government revealed it would not bring the bill back to the Commons for votes on this until 15 April.

Sky's political editor Beth Rigby has heard from a government source that the plan is still for the bill to get its royal assent - and come into effect - on the originally planned date, although it's not clear when this will be.

The Safety of Rwanda Bill seeks to declare the African nation a safe country for the purpose of legal challenges to people being deported, and prevents judges from challenging this.

One figure on the right of the Conservatives told Beth the government is making the "choice" to delay the bill and could have forced the Lords into long sittings in order to hash out the bill.

Another told her that it was a "performative" move from the government to make it look like it was taking action, but the bill was actually not going to work and was in fact a "dud".

Someone from the Labour side believes the government had avoided bringing the bill back before the Commons before the break so they could blame the Lords for the delay.

Peers had been preparing for more sittings to happen ahead of the recess.

Speaking in the Lords on Thursday morning, ex-Tory cabinet minister Lord Michael Forsyth said: "Has the minister seen the reports in The Times and Telegraph, and other newspapers, suggesting that this House has delayed the passage of the Rwanda Bill unnecessarily, resulting in people being exposed to the dangers of the Channel?

"Will he take this opportunity to point out that this House was well-prepared to pass the legislation back for consideration in the House of Commons before Easter, and it is no fault of this House that the legislation has been delayed?

"And that this House has just been doing its job, which is asking the Commons to think again, and is not responsible for delaying the legislation?"

The government minister in the Lords said this message had been passed on.

Penny Mordaunt, the government minister who sets out the timetable in the Commons, said the latest changes would be voted on 15 April, and there was also time set aside on 17 April if the Lords attach more amendments.

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She said: "I have no wish to blame their Lordships in the delay in this bill, let me be very clear: I wish to blame Labour for this delay.

"For all Labour's talk of being tough on borders, they have voted against our plans to do that 111 times, and they have voted 98 times against our measures to stop the boats."

Home Secretary James Cleverly said: "I'm absolutely determined to get the legislation through the house to prevent Labour peers continually delaying and obstructing what I am trying to do, what the government is trying to do, to break the business model of these criminal smuggling gangs, to deter people making those dangerous crossings across the Channel, to protect our borders, and stop the boats."