The UK Parliament has passed the controversial Rwanda asylum plan in a major victory for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. However, Sunak faced a significant rebellion from within his own Conservative Party over the plan.
Parliament passes Rwanda plan in initial vote
On January 17th, 2023, the UK House of Commons passed the Rwanda asylum plan in an initial vote, approving it 325 to 264 (source). The plan would send some asylum seekers who arrive in the UK illegally on a one-way trip to Rwanda to have their claims processed.
Despite opposition from other parties like Labour, Sunak was able to pass the bill with support from most Conservative MPs. However, tensions within his party remained high leading up to the vote.
Sunak faces rebellion from Tory MPs
In the lead up to the vote, Sunak faced substantial criticism over the Rwanda policy from his own Conservative party members (source). High profile Conservative MPs like Simon Clarke said they would vote against the plan over human rights concerns with Rwanda’s track record.
Two Conservative deputy party chairs, Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith, even resigned from their roles to rebel against Sunak on the Rwanda plan (source). In resignation letters, they stated the plan fails to fix the UK’s “broken” asylum system.
Other Tory politicians like Home Secretary Suella Braverman warned Sunak that failure to pass the bill could prompt an early general election (source). This indicates deep divides within the Conservatives over immigration policy direction.
What does the Rwanda plan entail?
The Rwanda asylum plan, a key aspect of Sunak’s immigration policy proposals, would allow the UK to send asylum seekers deemed to have arrived “illegally” to Rwanda to have their refugee claims processed there rather than in the UK (source).
The UK signed a £120 million economic deal with Rwanda and initially planned to send the first deportation flight in 2022. However, legal challenges have prevented any asylum seekers being deported to Rwanda so far. Sunak believes the policy will discourage migrants from making dangerous small boat crossings over the English Channel.
|£120 million deal with Rwanda
|Deter illegal migration to the UK
|Passed initial Commons vote Jan 17th
|Further Parliament votes, legal challenges
Critics argue the Rwanda plan violates international law and asylum seeker rights. It faced backlash from leaders like Prince Charles and religious figures over human rights concerns in Rwanda related to the 1994 genocide. The plan is also opposed by the Labour party, which has stated it would scrap the arrangement if it wins the next general election.
What next after Commons victory?
While passing the initial Commons vote is a huge boon for Sunak, the Rwanda plan still faces major hurdles before potential implementation (source). The bill must pass through the House of Lords and undergo review by parliamentary committees. Significant amendments recently passed suggest it may be substantially changed by the time the policy comes into effect.
There will also likely be legal challenges from asylum advocacy groups that could halt deportations. Previous court rulings have prevented the UK government from deporting any migrants under deals seen as violating human rights protections. With Sunak’s conservatives split over the Rwanda policy, it remains to be seen whether public pressure will continue building to scrap the deal.
Opposition arguments against Rwanda plan
Aside from condemnation over Rwanda’s human rights record, opposition lawmakers and groups have leveled several key arguments against the Rwanda asylum plan (source):
- Critics claim the policy will fail as an effective deterrent against small boat crossings and illegal migration. Migrants fleeing desperation may not be dissuaded by the threat of deportation.
Violates International Law
- Sending asylum seekers arriving irregularly to a third country for refugee status determination potentially breaches the UN Refugee Convention.
Impractical and Costly
- The asylum plan involves tremendous logistical efforts and transportation costs that may prove impractical. Rwanda likely lacks capacity to adequately process all UK claimants.
- Rwanda’s human rights record since the 1994 genocide undermines its ability to safely process vulnerable asylum seekers.
With Sunak facing a rebellion from his own party, passing the Rwanda bill through Parliament may ultimately damage Conservative electoral hopes by highlighting internal divisions over immigration policy direction.
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