In a divisive move, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak successfully navigated a parliamentary vote with 320-276 in favor, supporting a bill aiming to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda. This plan faced previous challenges from the UK Supreme Court, and the bill is a response to overcome this hurdle. However, the controversial immigration policy still confronts significant political and legal obstacles.
The vote followed a rebellion within Sunak’s Conservative Party, with 60 members attempting to toughen the legislation. Despite losing two party deputy chairmen, the rebellion dwindled when the bill faced the vote, with only 11 Conservatives opposing it. This result allows Sunak’s government to move forward, yet the political landscape remains divided.
The bill will now proceed to the House of Lords, where additional opposition is expected. The legislation aims to address acute liquidity challenges and uncertainties around accessing funding in financial markets as a $2 billion Eurobond matures in June.
Sunak, who has made immigration policy central to his political agenda, argues that deporting unauthorized asylum-seekers will deter risky journeys and disrupt people-smuggling gangs. However, the policy is facing internal opposition from both liberal and law-and-order factions within the Conservative Party.
Critics argue that the Rwanda plan is not compatible with international refugee law, a concern echoed by the United Nations’ refugee agency. Meanwhile, some hard-liners within the Conservative Party believe the bill does not go far enough in deterring migration to the UK.
The policy, integral to Sunak’s “stop the boats” pledge, involves sending migrants to Rwanda under a deal made two years ago. Despite the UK paying Rwanda £240 million ($305 million) under the agreement, no one has been sent to Rwanda. Human rights groups criticize the plan as inhumane and unworkable.
After the UK Supreme Court ruled the policy illegal in November, the UK and Rwanda signed a treaty to strengthen protections for migrants. Sunak’s government contends that the treaty allows it to pass a law declaring Rwanda a safe destination, thereby making it harder to challenge deportations in court.
While the bill has cleared the House of Commons, further opposition in the House of Lords is anticipated in the coming weeks. Rwandan officials expressed weariness with the ongoing British debate, with President Paul Kagame stating, “If they don’t come, we can return the money.”