Picture by Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

What Rwanda victory means for Rishi Sunak

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The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill finally cleared parliament just after midnight, ending a lengthy showdown between the House of Commons and House of Lords. The bill will now go for royal assent — the final step before it becomes law.

You can relive the late-night action with my blow-by-blow live blog, which wrapped up not before time at 12.10 am.

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After all, Lord Anderson of Ipswich refused to insist on his amendment to the controversial legislation, which sought to establish a monitoring committee to consult the government on whether Rwanda is safe, with a report thereby published.

Lord Anderson told the Lords at 11.50 pm that “without the threat of double insistence, which remains part of our constitutional armoury but did not command the necessary political support on this occasion, there would have been no point in” continuing the fight.

On the surface, this is a significant victory for the prime minister, who can now leave the parliamentary chicanery aside and focus his efforts on operationalising the scheme. (A briefing document marked “official sensitive”, mistakenly left under a chair at the prime minister’s No 10 press conference yesterday, said the first charter flight was “provisionally scheduled for June”. The Express recorded the top lines of the memo before it was swept up by a No 10 aide).

And so the Rwanda scheme enters the next phase of its life. Five months after promising a new treaty and primary legislation in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling against the plan, Rishi Sunak can plough ahead.

‘There will be challenges’

But there is no disguising the fact that the government’s journey to its first round of deportation flights, perhaps in June if the “official sensitive” memo is anything to go by, is beset by political and legal obstacles.

Illegal migration minister Michael Tomlinson, who led the charge against the Lords yesterday, said this morning that it is “inevitable” there will be “challenges”. “There will be challenges, but we will meet them, we will overcome them”, Tomlinson vowed.

The big unknown is the role of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), and whether it could ground any Rwanda flights with a section 39 interim injunction. It was, of course, such an order that halted initial plans for ministers to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda in June 2022. In this eventuality, Sunak could be forced to decide whether to quit the convention altogether — something he has not so subtly hinted at in recent weeks.

‘Extortionately expensive gimmick’

In short, the position of the government on its flagship asylum scheme remains fraught — and Conservative right-wingers will be quick to criticise the PM if the plan is further delayed. Robert Jenrick, the former immigration minister, wrote a Telegraph op-ed last week entitled: “The Rwanda Bill is a sham. We have no choice but to leave the ECHR”.

Labour has its criticism honed too. Speaking to Sky News this morning, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper labelled the Rwanda scheme an “extortionately expensive gimmick” that costs over half a billion pounds and will affect “less than 1 per cent of asylum seekers” arriving in Britain.

Cooper also confirmed that Labour, if it wins the next election, will scrap the scheme.

‘Let us be proud of our national identity’

It’s St George’s Day today, presenting politicians with the perfect opportunity to flex their patriotic muscles. Labour leader Keir Starmer posted a social media clip this morning with the caption: “Let us be proud of our national identity, confident on the world stage, and sure of our country’s future”. Watch for yourself here.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, however, writes for Politics.co.uk today that, “If Starmer really is a true English patriot, it’s time he told better, more truthful and more hopeful stories of what England is — and could be”. Read Caroline’s piece here.

The prime minister, meanwhile, has opted for a more stripped-back approach, posting a candid photo of him lovingly eyeing an England flag mug.

Politics@Lunch’s featured piece today looks at the future political prospects of the Green Party going into the 2024 general election, and beyond:

The slow march of the Greens: Might 2024 establish a springboard for later success?

Lunchtime briefing

Polling expert sees Rwanda scheme as ‘last card’ Sunak can play against Labour

Rwanda Bill passes as House of Lords opts not to table further amendments — as it happened

Lunchtime soundbite

‘It is important that Europeans invest in their own security. Very welcome news over the weekend from the US but that doesn’t take away from the need for Europeans to invest in their security’

—  Rishi Sunak calls on other European countries to spend more on defence if Ukraine is to be protected from Russian aggression.

Now try this

Bed bugs found at Home Office headquarters
Civil Service World reports as theHome Office asks for officials to report “any potential sightings”.

Germany arrests EU Parliament aide over bombshell China spying claims
Politico reports on the espionage probe rocking the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party as it flies high in the polls.

How Sunak’s Rwanda gamble fits into his election bid
The FT’s Stephen Bush notes that some Conservative insiders favour going to the country early, fearing party disunity could worsen after May polls. (Paywall)

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