Rwanda votes on knife-edge as Bishops refuse to back down in clash with Government

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Crunch votes which will influence when Rishi Sunak can finally put his controversial Rwanda plan into action are on a knife-edge with Bishops set to continue their clash with the Government on Wednesday.

The House of Lords will again vote on a series of amendments to the Safety of Rwanda Bill, which declares the east-central African nation a safe country and overrides court rulings in a bid to save the controversial deportation deal after it was ruled unlawful by judges.

After throwing out previous Lords amendments in the Commons on Monday, the Government has taken the rare step of putting Conservative Lords on a three-line whip. It is also expected to call in peers who rarely attend debates in an attempt to override opposition and defeat further attempts to change the bill, which if successful would pave the way for deportation flights from mid-May.

But i understands that Bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, are set to join Labour and other crossbenchers in continuing their confrontation with the Government over the controversial bill, putting the votes on a knife-edge.

They are likely to back amendments designed to introduce safeguards against the bill’s declaration that Rwanda is a safe country, among other changes.

The Government has suggested that if it loses in the Lords again on Wednesday night, it will have to delay the bill beyond the Easter parliamentary recess, which could hold up deportation flights until June.

But Tory peer Lord Kirkhope suggested the Government could simply pass the bill through Parliament next week after another round of parliamentary ping-pong, as ministers have made clear they will not accept any changes and so the Lords will eventually back down.

The former immigration minister told i: “I personally don’t like this bill but I’ve now come to the conclusion that because the Government is so determined to have it and will not allow any amendments at all of any kind, that I think the House of Lords, ultimately being an unelected House, is going to have to let them have it.

“Then they will have to deal with it in practical terms and that will be when some of the problems will arise.”

He added: “As far as we are concerned, I can see no reason why this should not be disposed of before Easter.

“If the Government is determined to take a longer time period on this now, it cannot possibly be as a result of, or a reflection, of the time the House of Commons is taking in considering our amendments.”

Government sources have insisted Sunak can still fulfil his goal of beginning deportation flights by spring – with the Prime Minister thought to regard at least the first half of June as in line with this aim.

Downing Street on Tuesday urged peers to back down in their clash with ministers.

Sunak’s official spokesman said: “Not acting, in the Government’s view, is not an option and it certainly wouldn’t be a compassionate route.

“We want to end the business of people-smuggling and ensure that vulnerable people are not lured into making the perilous journey across the Channel, so there’s an opportunity for the Lords to work with the Government this week and pass this bill.”

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