MPs set up fight with Lords as they reject amendments to Rwanda Bill

MPs have rejected amendments to the Rwanda Bill setting up a fight with the Lords on Rishi Sunak’s flagship plan to send migrants to Rwanda.

MPs voted on Wednesday afternoon to stop a change to the legislation that would exempt asylum seekers who aided UK troops overseas, such as Afghan special forces, from deportation to Rwanda.

The Commons also voted against measures designed to make the Bill comply with domestic and international law, and an amendment aimed at requiring a monitoring body to make sure Rwanda is a safe country before asylum seekers are sent there.

Downing Street defiantly insisted on Wednesday that it will not make any changes to the Bill, saying it “is the right way forward”.

Tory MP Sir Robert Buckland, a former justice secretary, was the sole Conservative to rebel against the government, voting with the opposition on two amendments. These were the ones aimed to ensure Rwanda is safe and allowing exemptions for Afghans who worked with British forces.

The legislation, which would enable the government to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, will now return to the House of Lords, who seem to be rallying for a fight on the proposed changes.

Sunak has insisted that flights to Rwanda will take off in the Spring (AFP/PA)
Sunak has insisted that flights to Rwanda will take off in the Spring (AFP/PA)

Labour peers have said that they will continue to insist on the changes, but whether they will be successful will depend on how the cross-bench peers vote.

They are expected to try and force another round of ping-pong between the Lords and the Commons. They will try this with two amendments, one on the work of the monitoring committee and one on the work of Afghan allies who supported British forces. If they are successful this could then push the Bill back to the Commons on Monday.

A party spokesperson said Labour would “continue to take the position that we have so far”, including by supporting proposals to exempt Afghans who helped UK troops.

Sky News reported that peers had been in discussions with the government about whether the Afghan amendment would be accepted late on Tuesday night, but that No 10 vetoed the idea - preferring to bring it to a vote.

Shadow Home Office minister Stephen Kinnock told the Commons on Wednesday afternoon: “We owe a debt of honour and gratitude to the Afghans who so bravely fought alongside British troops and the idea that we might send them to Rwanda is simply unconscionable.

“But Lord Browne’s amendment is not only driven by a moral imperative, it is also underpinned by our national interest and by military logic for the simple and obvious reason that the ability of our armed forces to recruit local allies will be severely constrained if this Bill passes unamended.”

Home Office minister Michael Tomlinson said that the government “recognised the commitment and responsibility that comes with combat veterans, whether our own or those who have shown courage by serving alongside. I repeat: we will not let them down.”

Ministers have said that they remain confident that deportation flights to Rwanda will take off this Spring.