British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s emergency legislation, targeting the transfer of asylum seekers to Rwanda, successfully passed an initial parliamentary challenge on Tuesday, December 12th, overcoming opposition from numerous party members and highlighting significant divisions within the ranks.
The bill passed by a vote of 313 to 269 after intense negotiations and drama in the parliamentary proceedings.
The controversial bill, which has incited backlash from Conservative Party members and human rights organizations, involves a substantial financial commitment from the UK, amounting to at least $300 million in payments to Rwanda, even though no actual deportations have occurred.
The agreement, forged between Rwanda and the UK in 2022, aims to process and settle hundreds of asylum-seekers annually from Britain.
Prime Minister Sunak thinks that this approach will discourage perilous migrant journeys and undermine the operations of human trafficking networks.
The legislation is designed to counteract the UK Supreme Court decision that deemed the plan to transport migrants who arrive in the UK via the English Channel to Rwanda – with the intention of permanent resettlement – as unlawful.
Last month, Britain’s highest court declared the policy illegal, stating that Rwanda does not constitute a haven for refugees.
In response, the UK and Rwanda signed a treaty promising enhanced migrant protections. The Sunak administration contends that this treaty enables the enactment of a law to officially recognize Rwanda as a safe country despite the Supreme Court’s judgment.
If passed, this law would grant the government authority to override certain aspects of UK human rights legislation related to Rwandan asylum claims.
Human rights advocates, however, argue that the proposal to relocate asylum-seekers over 4,000 miles away to Rwanda, with no prospect of returning to the UK, is both impractical and morally questionable.
They point to Rwanda’s contentious human rights record, including alleged instances of torture and persecution of government critics.
Sacha Deshmukh, Chief Executive of Amnesty International UK, denounced the bill, labeling it an “outrageous attack on the very concept of universal human rights.”
The opposition to the bill from dozens of Conservative Party members also highlights Sunak’s challenges in uniting his party.
While right-wing members criticized the bill for not being extensive enough, moderate members of the Conservative Party expressed concerns about potential human rights violations.
“We have decided collectively that we cannot support the bill tonight because of its many omissions,” stated Mark Francois, representing a faction of right-wing Conservative lawmakers.
These lawmakers chose to abstain, indicating potential further resistance in future stages of the legislative process.
This internal conflict within the Conservative Party comes at a critical time, as the party, having been in power for over a decade, faces significant trailing in polls behind the Labour Party.
The party’s apparent lack of discipline and unity is becoming increasingly evident.
Francois, signaling a possible continuation of the internal party struggle, mentioned, “Let’s pick this up again in January. We will table amendments, and we will take it from there.”
He noted that approximately 40 right-wing lawmakers may oppose the legislation in subsequent votes.
Reflecting the uncertainty surrounding the vote’s outcome, Britain’s Climate Change Minister Graham Stuart departed from the critical COP28 summit in Dubai to cast his vote in Parliament, even as crucial climate negotiations continue.
Prime Minister Sunak, in an effort to quell the revolt within his party, indicated to potential rebels that amendments to the legislation could be made later.
Following the parliamentary vote, Prime Minister Sunak expressed on social media, “The British people should decide who gets to come to this country — not criminal gangs or foreign courts. That’s what this Bill delivers.”