British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has survived a crucial vote in Parliament to see his revised Rwanda bill move forward. A much-expected right-wing insurgence aiming to scupper the plan did not materialise.
Observers said a fall of the Conservative Government and early elections in the UK have been avoided. In the vote, 319 mostly Tory MPs were in favour of the plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing, with 269 against.
Prior to the vote, Westminster was buzzing with rumours that opposition to the Rwanda bill was growing within the Conservative Party itself.
Many on the Right felt it was “too soft” and would not be sufficient end the large number of illegal immigrants reaching the country, especially those coming in small boats across the English Channel.
On the evening of December 12, support for the proposal turned out to be much stronger than had been widely anticipated.
The approved Rwanda-bill is a revised version of one that was shot down by the British Supreme Court in mid-November.
The court decided asylum seekers would be “at real risk of ill-treatment” if sent to the East African country because, once there, they could be sent back to their home countries and face persecution.
Those issues are said to have been addressed in the amended version.
Despite that, criticisms remained. Firstly, more liberal-minded Conservatives loudly questioned the deal with Rwanda and expressed their belief that the African country is not safe for UK asylum seekers.
The biggest pushback came from the Right, led by former Home Secretary Suella Braverman and former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick. He had earlier resigned over what he saw as weaknesses in the bill.
Both fear the bill is not strong enough to end mass migration to the UK and have said migrants will continue to use – or even abuse – the European Human Rights Convention in court to block deportation.
Apparently using a mix of carrot-and-stick methods and outright threats to kick abstainers out of the ruling party, Sunak and his backers got the bill through, much to his short-term relief.
Opposing MP’s intend to push for further amendments and have stated that if the changes they seek are not approved, they will vote against the bill when it returns to the Commons in the New Year.
Mark Francois, who was among those who abstained along with Braverman, Jennick and about 26 others, told BBC News: “Our objection was that we don’t believe, as it’s currently drafted, the bill is firm enough to ensure that flights will take off to Rwanda.
“The Prime Minister had said that he would entertain tightening up the bill. We’re taking him at his word,” he said.
“A number of MPs voted with the Government … because they were told in private that there would be amendments later on” when the bill progresses through the Houses of Parliament, he added.
Opposition parties voted against the law and the biggest, the Labour Party, has already said it would cancel the project if it won power in the next general elections, possibly next year.
Labour claims the millions of pounds granted to Rwanda as part of the agreement would be better spent combating people-smugglers.
Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, said: “The Conservatives’ civil war continues, and the country is paying the price.
“Today’s debate shows how weak Rishi Sunak is with this Tory psychodrama now dragging on into the new year.”
On social media, Sunak reacted positively to the result, saying the Government would now push to enact legislation to enable removing asylum seekers to Rwanda and “stop the boats”.
The British people should decide who gets to come to this country – not criminal gangs or foreign courts.
That’s what this Bill delivers.
We will now work to make it law so that we can get flights going to Rwanda and stop the boats.
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) December 12, 2023
A Government spokesperson added: “Tonight, the House has shown its support for the Prime Minister’s legislation to deem Rwanda safe and stop the boats.
“This Bill is the toughest legislation ever introduced to Parliament.
“It deems Rwanda safe notwithstanding any other interpretation of international law and it makes clear that this parliament, not any foreign court is sovereign,” the spokesman said.
“We will now work to ensure that this Bill gets on to the Statute book so that we can get flights off to Rwanda and stop the boats.”
The UK is struggling with high numbers of illegal immigrants entering the country. Official estimates say close to 30,000 reached its shores crossing the Channel in 2023.
Net migration to the UK reached a record high of 672,000 people in the year to June 2023.