Sunak Survives Knife-edge Vote, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak passed a critical test of his leadership Wednesday, defeating right-wing rebels in a tense parliamentary vote on his unpopular plan to transfer migrants to Rwanda.
Sunak, who has been in power since October 2022, has bet his political career on the project, as Britain prepares for the next general election later this year.
UK’s Sunak Survives Knife-edge Vote as Rwanda Bill Clears
Right-wing Conservatives threatened to block the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, but they eventually backed down, and the government won convincingly by 320 to 276 votes.
As a result, Sunak avoids a significant weakening of his power, since his faction-ridden party badly needs to reclaim support from the main opposition Labour Party before the statewide vote.
The bill is the British leader’s response to the UK Supreme Court’s decision late last year that deporting asylum seekers to Kigali is unconstitutional under international law.
If the latest legislation is implemented, judges will be required to treat Rwanda as a safe third nation.
It would also give UK ministers the authority to reject parts of international and British human rights legislation.
While the bill passed the third and final barrier in the elected House of Commons, it still needs to be approved by the unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords, before it becomes law.
The Public Perception
The government lacks a majority in the Lords, where members are certain to scrutinize the measures and make several modifications, setting up yet another clash with Downing Street.
The law might yet be stopped by judicial challenges, prolonging the long-running issue, which Labour has termed a “farce” and a “gimmick”.
According to Chris Hopkins, political research director at polling firm Savanta, “the public perception of the government’s incompetence around immigration remains deep-rooted and may only change when planes to Rwanda take off.”
“Even then, it’s going to take a lot more for the Conservative Party to claw back its credibility on this issue,” he told the AFP news agency.
“As of now, all they have managed to achieve is highlighting their internal divisions to an unimpressed electorate.” London has already paid Kigali £240 million (280 million euros) since former Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the plan in April 2022.
Sunak has promised to reduce regular migration to historic lows and prohibit asylum seekers from sailing from France to Britain in small boats.
He insists that the Rwanda bill is critical in discouraging migrants from entering the United Kingdom illegally.
However, the proposal has reignited feuds between right-wingers and moderates in the ruling party that have not been witnessed since the debate over what Brexit should look like after the 2016 EU referendum.
Several dozen Tory legislators supported rejected amendments aimed at toughening the system, including ignoring international law and limiting migrants’ right to appeal deportation.
Two deputy chairmen resigned in support of the changes, which had the loud support of Johnson, who is no longer an MP and cannot vote.
Sunak declined to give in to dissident demands because doing so would almost probably have resulted in the bill being scuttled by moderates, who claim the law is already on the verge of acceptability.
To soothe the dissent, Sunak’s government declared that it would hire new judges and schedule thousands of additional sittings to expedite cases through the courts.
His “illegal migration minister” also appeared to imply that ministers would be able to compel state servants to ignore European Court of Human Rights injunctions at the last minute.
Sunak also met opposition during the initial vote on the bill in December. Last year, some 30,000 asylum seekers crossed the English Channel aboard primitive watercraft.
Five people died while attempting to make the voyage this past weekend.
An AFP photographer in the south coast port of Dover witnessed hundreds of people being rescued from the frigid waters and brought ashore on Wednesday.