UK

Sunak faces showdown over Rwanda Bill on its return to Commons next week

The legislation aimed at reviving the policy to deport some asylum seekers to Kigali has split the Tory left and right.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces further opposition to his Rwanda Bill
Rishi Sunak Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces further opposition to his Rwanda Bill (Christopher Furlong/PA)

Rishi Sunak faces a showdown with MPs over his Rwanda Bill when it returns to the Commons next week.

Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt on Tuesday announced the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill’s committee stage will take place on January 16 and 17.

The Prime Minister is under pressure from both sides of his party over the legislation, which is aimed at overcoming the Supreme Court’s objections to the stalled plan to deport some migrants to the African country.

Those on the right want the controversial legislation to be tightened, while more centrist Tories have threated to oppose the Bill if it risks breaching international law.

Mr Sunak has said he would welcome “bright ideas” on how to improve the Bill, but has previously insisted it strikes the right balance with only an “inch” between his rescue plan and more radical measures that would risk Kigali pulling out of the scheme.

The legislation seeks to enable Parliament to deem Rwanda “safe” generally but makes limited allowances for personal claims against being sent to the east African nation under a clause disliked by Conservative hardliners.

Centrist former deputy prime minister Damian Green said the Prime Minister had assured him the Bill would not be strengthened.

“The Prime Minister’s looked me in the eye and said that he doesn’t want to go any further” and potentially break international law by ignoring its human rights obligations, he told the New Statesman.

Mr Sunak won a key Commons vote on his emergency draft law in December despite speculation about a major rebellion by Tory MPs.

But it faces further dissent during the upcoming parliamentary stages and heavy scrutiny in the Lords.

Meanwhile, Labour was defeated in its bid to force the Government to release documents relating to the scheme.

The Opposition motion asked for any documents that show the cost of relocating each individual asylum seeker to Rwanda as well as a list of all payments made or scheduled to be made to Rwanda’s government.

It also asked for the Government’s internal breakdown of the more than 35,000 asylum decisions made last year and an unredacted copy of the confidential memorandum of understanding ministers reached with the East African country.

But MPs voted 304 to 228, majority 76, to reject the proposal.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper questioned if £400 million has already been committed to the Rwanda scheme and whether it could cost around £200,000 per person under the agreement.

She also told MPs: “The Prime Minister is still going ahead with a scheme he doesn’t believe in, doesn’t think will work, knows is extortionately expensive because he is too weak not to.

“You can see it in his face that he doesn’t support it, he doesn’t really believe it, he’s just desperately hoping for – in the words of the former immigration minister – one or two symbolic flights off before the next election, even if everyone ends up being sent back again, even if the whole thing collapses after that, even if it costs a total fortune because he’s not planning to tell anyone before the election what the total costs are.

“Because, in the end, the only deterrence it appears the Prime Minister actually believes in is deterring his backbenchers from getting rid of him because it’s weak, weak, weak, and yet the taxpayer is paying the price.

“It is a totally farcical situation.”

Home Office minister Tom Pursglove confirmed that £240 million has been spent on the Rwanda scheme so far and said further costs would be reported in the “perfectly normal” way, in the annual accounts.

Mr Pursglove added: “It’s right that there’s additional funding to reflect the cost in the future. The total cost of the partnership will depend on the number of people relocated, timing of when it occurs and outcomes of individual cases.”

The Rwanda policy is seen as key to Rishi Sunak’s pledge to ‘stop the boats’
Rishi Sunak press conference The Rwanda policy is seen as key to Rishi Sunak’s pledge to ‘stop the boats’

The Prime Minister has made the policy central to his premiership and key to his pledge to prevent Channel crossings.

But reports have suggested that he had doubts about the policy when he was chancellor and during his campaign for the Tory leadership.

Meanwhile, Downing Street denied Mr Sunak had overruled the Home Office’s plans to close dozens more asylum hotels.

The Times reported that the department in October drew up proposals to shut 100 hotels by January, but the Prime Minister ordered the target to be reduced to 50 because of concerns a spike in crossings in the summer could force them to reopen.

His official spokesman said: “Those claims are not true, hotel numbers have always been determined exclusively by Home Office need.

“The Prime Minister has not intervened in those decisions. It is right that we’re making progress in closing hotels. The first 50 are due to be closed by the end of this month and there will be more in the coming months.”

The Government is housing asylum seekers on military bases and the Bibby Stockholm barge in an effort to reduce the cost of hotel bills.

Medecins Sans Frontieres, the medical charity also known as Doctors Without Borders, said it is now treating people housed in RAF Wethersfield, a disused airbase in Home Secretary James Cleverly’s Essex constituency.

The NGO, known for emergency relief in conflict zones, said it was the first time it has opened a project working with people seeking sanctuary in the UK.