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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on a trip to Dover to promote his Stop the Boats policy
By Jennifer McKiernan
BBC political reporter

MPs have rejected the House of Lords’ changes to the Rwanda Bill, which aims to deported asylum seekers to the east African country.

All 10 amendments were rejected, including allowing courts to question Rwanda’s safety. The government insists Rwanda is safe.

The Supreme Court previously ruled the Rwanda plan unlawful, on the grounds it could lead to human rights breaches.

Labour says each deportation will cost as much as sending six people to space.

The proposed law aims to ensure the UK can deport asylum seekers to Rwanda by declaring it to be a safe place.

Michael Tomlinson, Home Office minister, told the Commons on Monday that the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill was “an essential element” of protecting the UK’s borders.

He said that the bill did not conflict with the government’s international obligations.

Mr Tomlinson also criticised “systematic legal challenges” that he said continued to “frustrate and delay” removals.

Earlier this month, peers inflicted 10 defeats on the government in votes watering down its plans.

Labour’s Stephen Kinnock supported all the Lords amendments to the bill and said peers were fulfilling their “patriotic duty” by scrutinising the draft laws.

The shadow Home Office minister said the government must have “due regard” for the Supreme Court ruling and claimed Conservative MPs were pushing through “absurd legislation” that is “frankly turning our institutions into a laughing stock”.

Labour backbencher Neil Coyle asked whether Mr Tomlinson was aware of the National Audit Office findings showing that the scheme could cost taxpayers nearly £2m for each of the first 300 asylum seekers sent to Rwanda.

“Is the minister aware that Virgin Galactic can send six people into space for less than this government wants to spend sending one person to Rwanda?” he said.

“Is it not time to rethink this absurd policy and extortionate cost?”

A Virgin Galactic flight to the edge of space for six people was costed at £2.14m last summer.

Legal challenges meant the first Rwanda flight was cancelled shortly before take-off in June 2022

Tory backbencher Richard Graham replied that critics of the cost “entirely miss the point” that it would act as a “huge disincentive” to those wishing to enter the UK without genuine reason.

However Robert Buckland, a former justice secretary, was one of a few Conservative rebels to support some of the Lords’ amendments, saying he was concerned about “creating legal friction” over whether Rwanda was and continued to be a safe destination.

Sir Robert was also keen to stress his support for an amendment exempting those who had helped the UK’s armed forces, such as Afghan translators, from deportation to Rwanda.

He said: “I would expect the government to be very sensible and sensitive to the position of Afghan refugees and future refugees and not put them into this scheme, it does seem to me to lose nothing by adding this particular insertion.”

MPs rejected the Lords amendments in a series of votes with a majority of about 70, which means the draft legislation will be sent back to the Lords again with its original wording.

On Wednesday, peers will decide whether to try to dilute the bill again before parliament’s Easter break.

Downing Street has said it still believes there is time for deportation flights to Rwanda to start before June.

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