Britain’s conservative prime minister faces a tough parliamentary vote on plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. Moderate and right-wing rebels in his party both dislike the bill, for opposite reasons, and may oppose.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his government’s plans to send people seeking asylum in the United Kingdom to Rwanda for consideration to stay there instead could face defeat in parliament on Wednesday.
Sunak faces a potential rebellion from both the moderate and right flanks of his Conservative Party in a parliamentary vote on a policy he and the party have emphasized in recent months amid pressure from the right.
Government’s preferred bill survives unchanged, but will it pass?
The government defeated a parliamentary motion from more hardline Conservatives to make the bill more stringent on Tuesday, but almost a fifth of the party’s lawamkers — more than expected — backed the proposal.
Two members of the party, Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke Smith, resigned in protest, writing in their co-signed resignation letter: “Prime Minister, you pledged to do whatever it takes to stop the boats.”
The government needed votes from the opposition to secure an outright majority for dropping the changes.
Should those who wanted to toughen up the bill vote the same way as opposition parties — and possibly a few moderate Conservatives — who oppose the policy entirely, it appears likely these two rather disparate groups would command a majority and topple the bill.
What’s coming up on Wednesday
Sunak’s surely likely to face questions on the issue publicly at lunchtime on Wednesday during the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in parliament. As part of that exchange, opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer will be able to put a series of questions directly to Sunak.
Thereafter, government ministers will address and face questions from members of the House of Commons, who will then debate and vote on the bill, quite possibly not until the evening.
Wednesday’s vote is the last, decisive one on the bill, known as third reading. If it fails, the government would effectively have to restart the process from scratch.
Sunak’s allies said after Tuesday’s surprising vote that they nevertheless remained confident the proposal would pass.
“We will get it through, but I’m going to listen respectfully to my colleagues this afternoon,” said Michael Tomlinson, illegal immigration minister, adding that Sunak had promised to recruit more judges to process any appeals.
Tomlinson said he expected the government would offer “further confirmation that it will be for ministers to decide” on sending migrants to Rwanda rather than the courts in another attempt to quell the rebellion.
What’s the Rwanda policy?
Britain’s bid to relocate anyone entering the country illegally to Rwanda, where they could seek asylum instead with no prospect of residency in the UK, originally dates back to 2021, when Sunak was still former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s finance minster.
Implementing the plan has proved challenging for successive Conservative governments, amid political and legal challenges alike.
The idea came soon after the completion of Brexit — once advertised to the public as a means to reduce migration — as both legal and illegal migration levels rose sharply despite the UK leaving the EU.
It also came amid pressure from the far-right, particularly former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, on the issue of migrants crossing the English Channel, often from France, in small boats.
The plan up for a vote on Wednesday aims to limit the scope people would have to challenge the process in the courts.
But the government said it was walking a fine line here because Rwanda had said it would only go ahead with a deal that was deemed not to breach international humanitarian law.
Hardliners want clearer language ruling out the chance of challenging at European courts, in particular, another pledge from the Brexit debate it’s proving difficult to honor.
Why the issue matters to Sunak
In power since 2010, with Sunak the fifth prime minister during that period (and the third of this legislative period), the Conservatives trail the opposition Labour Party by a wide margin in the polls.
Elections must take place by January of next year and are likely a little sooner than that.
The party’s recent platform of five key pledges included three connected to stabilizing the economy and mitigating problems like inflation, one to reducing hospital waiting lists in the nationalized health service, and lastly a promise to “stop the boats.”
The policy may well be aimed both at dissatisfied voters and at more right wing members of the Conservative Party. A strong viable political force to the right of the Tories currently does not exist in the UK, but Brexit frontman Nigel Farage — currently mostly making a living in the media — has created a suitable platform for immediate mobilization in the Reform UK group. Some polls recently estimated that should it run in general elections, it could win as much as 10% of the vote.
Europe also watching closely amid similar proposals?
Wednesday’s vote is liable to pique the interest of several politicians across Europe.
The EU is currently working on migration reforms of its own, with several member states recently mooting plans that sound at least reminiscent of those Britain’s government is struggling to realize.
msh/lo (AFP, AP, Reuters)