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_ Sleeping bags at the ready... MPs and peers dig in for late-night showdown on Rwanda Bill with snacks laid on - as Rishi warns Parliament must keep sitting until crucial legislation passes

_ Sleeping bags at the ready... MPs and peers dig in for late-night showdown on Rwanda Bill with snacks laid on - as Rishi warns Parliament must keep sitting until crucial legislation passes

MPs and peers are readying sleeping bags and camp beds tonight as they brace for a late-night showdown on the Rwanda Bill.  

The Houses are doing battle after Rishi Sunak insisted Parliament must sit for as long as it takes to break an impasse on the crucial legislation.

Catering at Westminster is being kept open especially for the wrangling - set to be the first time in more than a decade that so-called 'ping-pong' has continued into the early hours.

The Commons removed the latest amendments made by the Lords to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill earlier this evening.

It was then sent back to peers, and will be rapidly batted back and forth until one House folds or a compromise is reached.

One of the two remaining issues at stake seems to have been overcome thanks to a concession from ministers. The government will now stage a review of asylum decisions for Afghans who helped British forces to ensure they are not deported to Rwanda unfairly. Labour's Des Browne suggested he might not now push his amendment as a result.

MPs rejected two Lords amendments during voting in the Commons from 5pm, to send the Bill back to the upper House once again.

The Commons first voted 306 to 229, majority 77, to reject a Lords amendment aimed at ensuring Rwanda can not be treated as safe unless it is deemed so by an independent monitoring body.

MPs then voted 305 to 234, majority 71, to reject another change by peers, which proposed an exemption for agents, allies and employees of the UK overseas - such as Afghans who fought alongside the Armed Forces - from being deported to Rwanda

The refusal by MPs to accept the Lords amendments meant it was sent back to the Lords in its original form, with peers expected to again try and add changes later tonight.

Home Office minister Michael Tomlinson earlier told peers 'enough is enough' as he urged them to relent in making amendments to the Bill.

'Enough is enough. The opposition have delayed this Bill for too long, we must get on with it,' he said.

In a round of interviews this morning, deputy Foreign Secretary Andrew Mitchell upped the ante by branding peers' resistance to sending asylum seekers to Rwanda 'bordering on racism'. 

Meanwhile, a member of the House of Lords has suggested that the government is being 'disrespectful' to Jewish politicians by holding the votes as Passover begins.

At a Downing Street press conference this morning, the PM stressed the government is already poised to send the first flights carrying Channel migrants to the African state - with an airfield is on standby, commercial charter planes booked, and courts teed up to deal with challenges.

But Mr Sunak admitted that deportations are unlikely to begin for another 10-12 weeks. That would mean July - later than his previous timetable of 'Spring', with Mr Sunak complaining that Labour has been 'blocking at every turn'.

'We will start the flights and we will stop the boats,' he said, suggesting there will be a 'regular rhythm' once the flights are up and running. 

Former minister Tim Loughton is among the MPs preparing to stay up all night voting for the Bill.

He told BBC Radio 4's World At One programme: 'I have got the sleeping bag ready...

'I am frustrated, I have no problem with sitting through the night to get this legislation through.

'There is a hard core led by Labour in the House of Lords who are trying to frustrate this whole legislation without any credible alternative that would deal with those people coming here without any credible asylum claim who cannot be returned to their home country.

'It is incumbent on them to say what they would do and they haven't, so let the legislation through and let's see how it works.'

One senior peer told MailOnline they were determined to stay 'hydrated and fed' as the drama unfolds.  

Speaking in the Lords, Government chief whip Baroness Williams of Trafford acknowledged the 'frustration' felt by peers at the timetabling of the controversial legislation given the 'less than adequate notice' and coming on the first day of the Jewish holiday of Passover.

She said: 'May I thank all members in advance for their patience.'

Lady Williams also thanked catering staff 'who have already made swift provision for services beyond 10pm should peers and staff need them'.

Setting the stage for the showdown this morning, Mr Sunak : 'Enough is enough. No more prevarication, no more delay. Parliament will sit there tonight and vote no matter how late it goes. No ifs, no buts. These flights are going to Rwanda.'

Describing the plan as an 'indispensable deterrent so that we finally break the business model of the criminal gangs and save lives', Mr Sunak added: 'Starting from the moment that the Bill passes, we will begin the process of removing those identified for the first flight. We have prepared for this moment.'

Outlining his plans for implementing the policy once the law is in place, Mr Sunak said: 'To deal with any legal cases quickly and decisively, the judiciary have made available 25 courtrooms and identified 150 judges who could provide over 5,000 sitting days.

'The Strasbourg court has amended their rule 39 procedures in line with the test set out in our Illegal Migration Act. And we've put beyond all doubt that ministers can disregard these injunctions with clear guidance that if they decide to do so, civil servants must deliver that instruction and most importantly, once the processing is complete, we will physically remove people.

'And to do that, I can confirm that we've put an airfield on standby, booked commercial charter planes for specific slots and we have 500 highly trained individuals ready to escort illegal migrants all the way to Rwanda, with 300 more trained in the coming weeks.

'This is one of the most complex operational endeavours the Home Office has carried out. But we are ready, plans are in place and these flights will go, come what may.

'No foreign court will stop us from getting flights off.'

The delay in the schedule for the Rwanda flights could reduce the possibility of an election before the Autumn, as Mr Sunak suggested he wants to show that he has delivered on the policy. 

Before his press conference, Mr Sunak held a meeting with senior ministers including deputy PM Oliver Dowden and Defence Secretary Grant Shapps.

The proposed law aims to send some asylum seekers on a one-way trip to Kigali in order to deter people from crossing the Channel in small boats.

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill and a new treaty are intended to prevent further legal challenges to the stalled asylum scheme after the Supreme Court ruled the plan was unlawful.

As well as compelling judges to regard the east African country as safe, it would give ministers the power to ignore emergency injunctions.

Despite MPs overturning previous changes by the upper chamber, last week peers renewed their demand that Rwanda cannot be treated as a safe country until an independent monitoring body has verified that protections contained in the treaty are implemented.

The provision would also allow the Secretary of State to effectively pull the plug on the scheme if the promised safeguards were not maintained.

The Lords also reinserted an exemption from removal for those who worked with the UK military or Government overseas, such as Afghan interpreters.

Mr Mitchell rejected the calls for Afghans to get special treatment.

He insisted there was a 'safe and legal route' available to them to come to the UK and urged the House of Lords to 'accept the will' of the House of Commons and the British people.

Mr Mitchell told Times Radio: 'We have an absolute obligation to Afghan interpreters, people who served the British Army, served our country during the Afghan crisis.

'But I'm pleased to say that thanks to the scheme that the Government set up, the Arap (Afghan relocations and assistance policy) scheme, something like 16,100 Afghans have been given settlement in the UK.

'So I don't think this amendment is necessary, there is already a safe and legal route for Afghan interpreters and others who served the Army.'

Mr Mitchell said he hoped the Lords 'will accept the will of the elected House now and let the Bill proceed' as 'that is what the British people want'.

The foreign minister told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'I've listened to what has been said about the independence of the judiciary, the judicial arrangements that have been set up on Rwanda.

'The Rwandan judge, Judge Rugege, is an enormously distinguished and respected international jurist – indeed he is an honorary fellow in law at an Oxford college.

'Some of the discussions which have gone on in the Lords about the judicial arrangements, legal arrangements within Rwanda, have been patronising and, in my view, border on racism, so we don't think it's necessary to have that amendment either and that the necessary structures are in place to ensure that the scheme works properly and fairly.'

Assuming MPs remove those amendments tonight, they will send the Bill immediately back to the Upper House - and continue to sit until peers accept the will of the elected House.

The last time a standoff between the Houses went into the early hours was more than a decade ago, with politicians relying on camp beds as they batted legislation backwards and forwards.  

If peers pass exactly the same amendment twice, the Commons faces the choice of either accepting the change or losing the Bill under a rarely-used process known as 'double insistence'.

Crossbench peer and former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation Lord Anderson has raised this possibility and described the legislation as a 'post-truth Bill' that asks Parliament to declare Rwanda is safe when, he argued, it is not.

However, that is regarded as a 'nuclear option', with Labour indicating it will not try to block the legislation entirely. 

Government sources have played down the impact of the wrangling, but many now believe flights cannot begin until mid-June at the earliest.

Downing Street had declined in recent days to stand by the timetable previously set out by Mr Sunak for flights to take off in the Spring, merely saying the policy will be implemented 'as soon as possible'.

Ministers had been hinting that the RAF will be deployed to run the flights, instead of using a private airline.

There have been reports that the Ministry of Defence was preparing to repurpose at least one RAF Voyager plane for deportations, with claims that the government has struggled to find a private airline.

However, Mr Sunak suggested today that a commercial airline has been secured.  

Meanwhile, Suella Braverman has reiterated her view that the Bill is 'fatally flawed' because it has 'too many loopholes'.

The former home secretary told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'Unfortunately I voted against the legislation because I think it's fatally flawed.

'I don't think it's going to stop the boats, and that's the test of its efficacy.'

She added the legislation had 'too many loopholes' which would prevent it from having the 'deterrent effect that is necessary to break the people smuggling gangs, to send the message to the illegal migrants that it's not worth getting on a dinghy in the first place because you're not going to get a life in the UK'.

Ms Braverman said the current Bill was vulnerable to 'last-minute injunctions' by the European Court of Human Rights and susceptible to 'illegal claims clogging up the courts', adding: 'The simple fact is this is our third Act of Parliament that the Government has introduced in four years to stop the boats.

'None of them have worked – none of them have worked because they are all still susceptible to the international human rights law framework contained in the European Convention on Human Rights judged by, and adjudicated by, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg – that's the problem, and that's why I've been calling for a few years now to leave the European Convention on Human Rights.'


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