Lords delay Rwanda bill to next week in blow to Rishi Sunak's agenda

The House of Lords has delayed the passing of the government's Rwanda bill until next week - in a blow to Rishi Sunak's attempts to get planes off the ground deporting illegal migrants to the country.

MPs overturned Tuesday's attempts by the House of Lords to dilute the plan - but peers have now put forward even more changes to the proposed new law.

It is now expected that the Commons will consider the changes on Monday next week, dashing No 10's hopes to get it through today.

Downing Street has been unwilling to concede any ground on the areas that peers are trying to amend, including on the treatment of people who served with or for the British armed forces abroad.

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No 10 had set its sights on passing the legislation this week as part of its plans to get planes in the air in the spring.

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill was tabled last year after the Supreme Court ruled the previous scheme to deport asylum seekers who arrived illegally in the UK was unlawful.

The current bill aims to declare Rwanda safe and not allow courts to consider the safety of the nation during appeals.

This is being done based on a new treaty agreed between the UK government and the government in Rwanda.

Speaking earlier on Wednesday, the prime minister's spokesperson ruled out doing a deal on any of these changes. "We are not considering concessions," they said.

"We believe the bill as it stands is the right bill and the quickest way to get flights off the ground."

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What are the latest amendments suggested by the Lords?

Of the four amendments added on Tuesday, three were tabled by Labour peers and one by a crossbencher.

The proposed changes sought to:
• ensure the bill complies with domestic and international law;
• that Rwanda would not be declared safe until a report was completed;
• that appeals based on safety would be allowed;
• and that exemptions would be allowed for people who served with or for the British armed forces.

Peers want to insist on the amendments about people who assisted the UK's armed forces, and a report advising on the safety of Rwanda, in particular.

The government was defeated on the first by 245 votes to 208 - a majority of 37, and the second by 247 votes to 195 - a majority of 52.

Labour and crossbench peers - those who do not associate with a political party - worked together to outvote the Conservatives.

A government source told Sky News: "We wanted to get it done today, but it shows Labour for their true colours."

Responding to the latest defeats, Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker told Sky News that he was "extremely disappointed" with the delays.

He denied the government had "slammed the door" on people like interpreters in Afghanistan who worked with UK armed forces.

But Mr Baker said people wanting to come to the UK who had served with British armed forces had to go through the Ministry of Defence.

"They shouldn't be travelling with people smugglers illegally across the channel - and that's what we've got to break," he said.

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Approach to military interpreters 'shameful' - Labour

The amendment on people who helped the armed forces has been at the centre of a heated debate - with the government saying it is waiting for a report on the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) before setting out its steps.

But Labour's shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "Tory MPs just voted to insist that Afghan interpreters who served British armed forces can be sent to Rwanda.

"A scheme which costs £2m per asylum seeker. A £500m plus scheme for less than 1% of asylum seekers. Which now includes those who worked with our troops

"Shameful and shambolic."

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Johnny Mercer, a former soldier and the government's veterans minister, replied: "My team have worked night and day to find permanent accommodation for circa 25,000 Afghans who the UK have provided sanctuary to, without you lifting a finger to help.

"We want them to use safe routes, not undertake lethal channel crossings. Your concern is fake."