Sunak faces UK Parliamentary showdown over Rwanda asylum programme

  • Parliament is due to vote at 1900 GMT
  • Sunak’s party was split by the Ordinance
  • The rebels want to block legal appeals against the Rwanda project

LONDON, Dec 12 (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces the biggest parliamentary test of his premiership on Tuesday when lawmakers vote on his flagship immigration policy to send asylum seekers who come to Britain illegally to Rwanda.

Sunak is seeking to revive his flagship program after the UK Supreme Court ruled last month that Rwanda was an unsafe place to send people arriving in small boats off the UK’s south coast.

He later agreed to a new deal with Rwanda and introduced emergency legislation to end the deportations, a violation of domestic and international human rights law.

But the move has deeply divided his party, alienating both moderates who worry Britain is breaching its human rights obligations and those who argue it does not go far enough. A defeat in Tuesday’s vote could put his position in jeopardy.

“We believe the best solution here is to suspend today’s legislation and come back with a new bill,” Simon Clarke, a right-wing Conservative lawmaker, told BBC radio.

After 13 years in power and trailing the opposition Labor Party by 20 points ahead of next year’s expected election, Sunak’s Conservatives are in many ways fractured and losing their discipline.

Lawmakers on the far right, who said they would vote against or not vote on the bill, want to bar asylum seekers from having any legal means to appeal deportation.

“Even during the Second World War we didn’t shut down claims going to court,” Michael Tomlinson, the junior minister responsible for illegal migration policy, told BBC radio.

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Governments around the world are grappling with rising migration levels, and some are watching closely to see if the UK plan will work. In a blow to President Emmanuel Macron, French lawmakers last night rejected their immigration bill.

Important vote

The British parliament will hold its first vote on emergency legislation on Tuesday evening, and it will take just 30 conservative lawmakers to vote with the opposition to defeat the government.

Defeat would be a huge embarrassment for Sunak – no government has been voted through the parliamentary process at this early stage since 1986.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during a press conference in the Downing Street briefing room on December 7, 2023 in London, Britain. By James Manning/Pool REUTERS/File Photo Get license rights

Even if it passes, Sunak faces attempts to toughen it through amendments at later stages and opposition in the unelected upper house, the House of Lords.

Such is the government’s concern over the referendum that Britain’s climate minister has been recalled to London from the COP28 summit in Dubai.

Sunak hosted some right-wing conservative lawmakers for breakfast on Tuesday in a last-ditch effort to convince them to back the bill after centrist lawmakers said they would support the law unless it was made more stringent.

“We are open to hearing constructive comments from peers… This is a tough piece of legislation that we believe will achieve its objectives and the objectives of the boating public,” a spokesman for Sunak told reporters.

Chung is Britain’s fifth Conservative prime minister in seven years after the vote to leave the European Union polarized its politics, leading to repeated bouts of instability.

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From 2017-19, then-Prime Minister Theresa May suffered repeated defeats following rebellions by many Conservative politicians in an echo of parliamentary clashes over Brexit, which eventually led to her exit.

The Conservatives have repeatedly failed to meet targets to reduce immigration, which has risen even after Brexit stripped EU citizens of their right to free movement, with legal net immigration reaching 745,000 last year.

Some 29,000 asylum seekers have arrived by boat this year – a third less than last year – but the tiny inflatable dinghies crossing the canal are the most visible sign of the government’s failure to control Britain’s borders – a key promise for Brexit campaigners.

Hours before the vote, a refugee charity reported the death of an asylum seeker on a boat off the south coast where migrants awaiting a decision on their applications are being held.

Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labor Party, has promised to reverse the policy if he comes to power.

“It will end tonight, I have no doubt, with a lot of shouting and screaming but eventually it will pass,” he said, but added that an election would have to be called if Sunak lost.

Britain has so far paid 240 million pounds ($300 million) to Rwanda, but no one has yet been sent there. Although this plan was dropped, Rwanda could only take hundreds of migrants from Britain at a time.

($1 = 0.7971 pounds)

Writing by Kate Holton, Andrew MacAskill and Michael Holden, additional reporting by Kylie Maclellan; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Christina Fincher, Peter Graf and Sharon Singleton

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Sarah reports on UK breaking news with a focus on British companies. He was part of the UK bureau for 12 years covering everything from airlines to energy, royalty, politics and sport. Open water swimmer.

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