Commons Passes Bill Despite Tory Rebellion
The House of Commons passed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s controversial immigration legislation on Tuesday to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda in a bid to curb dangerous Channel crossings. However, Sunak faced substantial opposition, including from within his own Conservative party.
The prime minister prevailed in the critical vote, with MPs backing the plan by 318 to 256. But some 67 Tory MPs either voted against the government or abstained, underlining the scale of the revolt.
Sunak argued that the dramatic action was needed to stop a flood of migrants making the perilous journey across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Speaking ahead of the vote, he said “We cannot allow this situation to continue. Illegal migration is out of control and placing lives at risk.”
What Does the Bill Entail?
The legislation would empower border control officials to deport asylum seekers who arrive in Britain illegally to Rwanda while their claims are processed abroad. Migrants crossing the Channel in small boats accounted for almost all the 50,000 asylum applications in Britain last year.
Under a deal signed between the U.K. and Rwanda last year, Britain will pay Rwanda 120 million pounds ($148 million) upfront and fund the migrants’ resettlement in the East African nation.
Why the Controversy?
The legislation has sparked heated debate in Britain ever since Sunak’s predecessor Boris Johnson unveiled the plan last April when he was prime minister.
Critics, including Church of England leaders and the heir to the throne Prince Charles, have condemned the deportations as immoral and inhumane.
Human rights groups insist the policy will put migrants at risk by sending them halfway round the world without proper consent. The United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR has warned that migrants could face threats to their life in Rwanda over ethnicity, religion, sexuality, political or other affiliation.
Opposition parties, refugee organizations and even some government officials have criticized the policy as inhumane, unworkable and a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Concerns Over Policy’s Legality
There are also concerns over the policy’s legality under both U.K. domestic law and the European Convention on Human Rights. British courts refused last year to allow the first deportation flight to go ahead after challenges from migrants and the European Court of Human Rights. Lower courts later ruled that the government should not have blocked legal challenges against the policy.
Responding to critics, the government stressed that Britain has an obligation to assert control over its borders. It also insisted that Rwanda was a safe destination, although the country has a mixed human rights record. Some also support moving refugees for processing abroad as a way to discourage migrants from making perilous Channel crossings.
|Pros of Rwanda Plan
|Cons of Rwanda Plan
|Discourages dangerous sea crossings
|Costly and questionably effective
|Allows UK to take control of borders
|Legal and human rights concerns
|Provides path to settlement for some refugees
|Adds uncertainty to already vulnerable people
Hurdles Ahead Despite Commons Win
While Sunak succeeded in winning House of Commons backing for the plan, major obstacles to implementation remain. The legislation still needs approval from Parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords, where the government faces strong opposition.
Members of the Lords are voicing increasing frustration over Sunak’s bid to fast-track the bill. Critics accuse the government of curtailing scrutiny by pushing the bill through Parliament in less than a week.
Some Lords are expected to seek safeguards for child migrants or attempt outright to kill the legislation. If the Lords makes substantial changes, the bill would have to go back to the elected Commons in a process called parliamentary “ping pong” until some compromise is found.
There is also the risk of new legal challenges once flights begin. Sunak acknowledged that possibility when speaking to lawmakers this week but said his government would fight any court cases.
“If we have any problems in our courts, we will change the law to make sure we can achieve what the British people want,” he said. Such tough talk has alarmed human rights activists.
The legislation has also strained the U.K.’s relations abroad and could prompt retaliation. UN human rights experts have already warned that bilateral and multilateral agreements permitting expulsions without due process violate international law.
The U.N. refugee agency has voiced concerns about asylum-seekers’ safety in Rwanda and the entire policy of exporting the U.K.’s refugee obligations. Some experts say the Rwanda policy also sets a dangerous precedent that could inspire other countries to shirk responsibility toward asylum-seekers.
If Rwanda deportations take place, Britain could face reprisals such as having UK expats or diplomats in jeopardy of mistreatment abroad. The European Court of Human Rights intervention last year effectively blocked the Rwanda flights until the UK addressed human rights issues, demonstrating that other nations are paying close attention.
The legislation now moves to the House of Lords, where the government could face tight votes and demands for concessions. Any big amendments would send the bill back to the House of Commons in a back-and-forth process.
If the Lords passes the bill, enabling flights could begin, but new legal challenges are a near-certainty. Any U.K. court ruling against the policy would undermine the law unless further legal changes are made.
So while Sunak has momentum, big obstacles remain to actually implementing deportations. Much could change before the first flights to Kigali. Clearance in Parliament is just the initial phase in what promises to be a lengthy, internationally scrutinized effort.
Sunak prevailed in a critical early parliamentary vote to advance his hardline Rwanda asylum plan. But substantial opposition within his party signals concerns with an initiative that human rights activists describe as “cruel and nasty”. If Sunak manages to overcome legal hurdles to begin deportation flights, he could face a severe international backlash.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.