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Lords back down over controversial government plans to stop small boats crossing the Channel

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Controversial plans to tackle the small boats crisis are poised to become law after the government crushed a series of renewed challenges by peers at Westminster.

The Tory front bench saw off five further changes being sought by the upper chamber to the Illegal Migration Bill, including modern slavery protections and child detention limits.

At least one other vote was ditched in the face of the government victories.

And the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who has been a strident critic of the Bill, also dropped his demand for a statement on tackling the refugee problem and human trafficking to the UK, after a similar proposal was rejected by MPs.

It marked a shock ending to the parliamentary tussle over the flagship reforms that had threatened to go to the wire ahead of the summer recess.

The end of the stand-off between the Lords and MPs paves the way for the Bill to receive royal assent.

The reforms are a key part of Rishi Sunak’s bid to deter people from making hazardous Channel crossings.

They will prevent people from claiming asylum in the UK if they arrive through unauthorised means.

The government also hopes the changes will ensure detained people are promptly removed, either to their home country or a third country such as Rwanda, which is currently the subject of a legal challenge.

But the Bill had encountered fierce opposition in the upper chamber, which had been accused of trying to “drive a coach and horses” through the contentious plans.

In turn, the government faced claims of seeking to deliver a “punishment beating” to peers for challenging the plans.

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The Archbishop of Canterbury condemns the govt’s Illegal Migration Bill

Ministers had urged the Lords to allow the Bill to become law after signalling no further concessions were planned, and MPs again overturned a raft of revisions previously made by peers.

Home Office minister Lord Murray of Blidworth said the number of small boat arrivals had “overwhelmed” the UK’s asylum system and was costing taxpayers £6 million a day to provide accommodation.

Read more:
Why PM is desperate to show progress on migrant issue

Record number of Channel crossings in single day in 2023

He told peers: “With over 45,000 people making dangerous Channel crossings last year this is simply no longer sustainable.

“If people know there is no way for them to stay in the UK, they won’t risk their lives and pay criminals thousands of pounds to arrive here illegally.

“It is therefore only right that we stop the boats and break the business model of the criminal gangs exploiting vulnerable people, ultimately enabling the government to have greater capacity to provide a safe haven for those at risk of war and persecution.”

He urged the Lords to “respect the will of the elected House and the British people by passing this Bill”.

Bibby Stockholm
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Bibby Stockholm

But while he agreed on the need to stop the small boat crossings, Mr Welby said: “I fail to see how this (the Bill) does it and I have not heard anything to convince me.

“But that is the view of the other place. I agree that in the end on most things except the most essential that this House must give way to the other place.”

The debate in Parliament came as an accommodation barge set to house 500 migrants was on the move.

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