Rishi Sunak’s Mission Rwanda: British PM survives crunch vote on illegal immigrant policy

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks on his attempt to stop illegal immigration. Photo courtesy: campaign.gov.uk

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak yesterday survived a crunch vote in the UK Parliament as none of his party MPs voted against the government’s Safety of Rwanda Bill. However, several of the ruling Conservative Party’s representatives in Parliament abstained from voting.

Right after yesterday’s vote, Sunak tweeted: “MPs have voted to pass the Safety of Rwanda Bill through to the next stage. We must control our borders. It is our country who should decide who comes here — not criminal gangs.”

He was referring to the groups of illegal immigrants who arrive on the shores of the United Kingdom via the English Channel in small boats, often smuggled by human traffickers.

Since January 2023, the current prime minister has made it his mission to “stop the boats”. According to a BBC report, Sunak said in his “first major speech’ of the year that he made five promises: “We will halve inflation; grow the economy; reduce debt; cut waiting lists; and stop the boats.”

Yesterday, the vote in the House of Commons passed by 313 to 269, a majority of 44 votes. Around 38 Conservative MPs were recorded as not taking part in the vote, with sacked Home Secretary Suella Braverman and resigned Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick believed to be among them.

Earlier, Sunak had launched a charm offensive at 10 Downing Street in a bid to win over MPs from within his Conservative Party who were threatening to rebel against the bill. The Safety of Rwanda Bill is aimed at overcoming legal hurdles in the way of deporting illegal migrants from the United Kingdom to the east African nation.

Ahead of the early-stage vote on the bill, Sunak hosted a breakfast summit for the Tory rebels on the extreme right of the party who are opposed to the bill — they feel the bill is not strong enough to circumvent legal challenges.

Tory voting on the bill was seen as a test of Sunak’s authority within his own party. The breakfast summit proved enough to ensure that he did not become the first UK prime minister in nearly 40 years to face a defeat on a vote at such an early stage of a government bill.

What is the Safety of Rwanda Bill?

The Rishi Sunak government said that the aim of the policy was to deter migrants from crossing the English Channel; the Safety of Rwanda Bill is central to the plan to “stop the boats”, one of Sunak’s top priorities ahead of a general election year in 2024.

An article headlined ‘What we’re doing to stop illegal immigration’, published on the website of the Prime Minister’s Office, said: “When the Prime Minister outlined his priorities in January 2023, he stressed [on] the importance of stopping small boat crossings.

“Since then, we have made considerable progress in tackling illegal immigration — with small boat arrivals to the UK down by a third and 20,000 illegal migrants returned this year.

“We have made agreements with France, Italy, Turkey, Albania, Georgia, and Moldova to help control our borders. “And we have passed our Illegal Migration Act, which means that anyone who arrives in the UK illegally will be sent back to either their home country or a safe third country, like Rwanda.”

The Sunak government hopes that the clear-cut deportation plan — once the bill becomes a law — would act as a deterrent for people smugglers bringing migrants illegally to UK shores.

Other measures have also been taken to “stop the boats”. According to the article: “The Illegal Migration Act became law on 20 July 2023; however [UK] Supreme Court judgments over issues with Rwanda’s asylum system means the government cannot yet lawfully remove people to the country.

“That is why we have introduced a new treaty, which guarantees in law that illegal migrants sent to Rwanda will not be at risk of being sent on to other countries, where they could face persecution.

“The treaty also means that British judges will sit alongside their Rwandan counterparts to decide cases.”

Outlining the features of the Illegal Migration Act, the article listed the following:

“● Gives ministers power to remove anyone arriving in the UK illegally

● Strengthens detention powers so migrants can be detained for 28 days 

● Stops illegal immigrants processing asylum claims in the UK

● Allows the UK to send illegal migrants to a safe third country

● Ends the use of last-minute legal challenges as delay tactics 

● Allows migrant appeals to be carried out outside of the UK

● Stops the abuse of our modern slavery support system 

● Expands the list of countries that are considered safe in law

● Sets an annual cap on the number of refugees settled via safe and legal routes”

However, not everyone is impressed. The opposition Labour Party has accused the Tories of infighting rather than coming up with workable solutions on the issue of illegal migration.

With inputs from CtoI News Desk