This was the week it was meant to be done. 

Having forced the House of Commons to vote down the Lords’ amendments to the prime minister’s flagship illegal immigration bill three times, peers would typically have bowed out of the battle this time around and passed the Rwanda bill.

Instead, they sought to amend the legislation again.

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Rwanda bill delayed after government suffers surprise defeats

There is obvious frustration in government, with one senior figure saying: “We wanted to get it done today, but it shows Labour for their true colours.”

The Rwanda bill now comes back to the Commons next week, and could finally be passed on Monday.

All the while, the clock is ticking down on the prime minister‘s promise to get flights away by the end of spring.

With that timetable already in doubt, at least this ping pong can help ministers pin this on peers should that deadline be missed.

But there is also huge frustration amongst some MPs with Number 10.

‘We need to get it through’

Many are asking why the government didn’t just table late night sittings and force Lords to sit into the night to ram through the legislation.

Tory MP Rehman Chishti spoke for many colleagues when he told me he didn’t understand why the whips hadn’t chosen this course.

“I think the programme motion could easily have ensured that we had a vote tomorrow because at the end of day the public want us to get on and get it done. Labour have delayed, dithered, delayed. We’ve got a plan, but we need to get it through,” he said.

“If you would have asked me, I would have put it in tomorrow and I would have a vote on it. And therefore we get those planes off and make sure that this policy delivers what it needs to be delivering, which is deterrence.”

Another senior minister told me it was “clear” to them that these were “delaying tactics because they know the version of the policy doesn’t work and they want more time and to put off the day of reckoning”.

Read more:
Government ‘operationalising’ Rwanda flights
Rwanda enforcement officers told all leave is cancelled

The UK-Rwanda partnership. Pic: AP
The UK’s Rwanda bill has been delayed again. Pic: AP

Labour ‘terrified it will work’

As Labour blames the government for refusing to compromise on amendments, and “going home” instead of looking again at the bill this evening, the government blames Labour for delaying the bill because – to quote minister Steve Baker – “they are terrified it will work”.

There is talk that had the government accepted the amendment to exempt Afghans who served alongside UK forces from deportation to Rwanda, the Lords might have passed the bill.

Labour had received an assurance from the Home Office that this amendment, tabled by former Labour defence secretary Des Browne, was going to be accepted – only for it then to be blocked.

For all the drama and irritation, it is likely that the prime minister will still have his moment.

At some point, the House of Lords will have to cave. Unelected peers cannot keep ignoring the will of the Commons.

But the question then is whether he can assuage the frustration of voters who are watching the small boats still coming, with the most crossings in a single day this year – 534 people – happening this week.

‘Another failed thing they promised’

In our Sky News election target town of Cleethorpes, part of a key bellwether seat in the next general election, voters we spoke to are sceptical the government will deliver the flights at all.

One resident told us: “They tell you what they think you want to hear but when it comes down to it, they don’t deliver that.”

Another said: “No one’s gone to Rwanda. They get on the plane, and they take them off. So that’s another failed thing they’ve promised.”

And really that’s the rub of it – the prime minister will get this legislation passed.

Then the challenge is to get those planes off the ground. Anything less won’t be acceptable.

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But with even some of his own backbenchers believing the policy won’t work, a parliamentary win is only the end of the beginning.

The next question is will he, if he has to, not just take on the Lords, but take on the European courts – and those in his own cabinet – and if necessary ignore court rulings to get flights away.

There are plenty more showdowns to come.

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