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Rishi Sunak gets the green light from MPs for his controversial plan to deport migrants

Jessica Taylor British Parliament via Agence France-Presse UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (front centre) reacts during the weekly Prime Minister's Questions session at the House of Commons, London, on Wednesday.

Clara Lalanne – Agence France-Presse in London

6:45 p.m.

  • Europe

Overcoming an attempted rebellion in his majority, the British Conservative Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, obtained the green light from MPs on Wednesday for his bill, controversial but crucial for his political survival, aimed at deporting illegal migrants in Rwanda.

After two days of high tension at the Palace of Westminster with heated debates, negotiations behind closed doors and resounding resignations, the dissidents returned to the ranks and the text was approved at third reading in the House of Commons with 320 votes for and 276 against.

It’s a relief for Rishi Sunak. Well outpaced in the polls by Labor at the start of the electoral year, he put all his weight in the balance to bring about this project supposed to show his firmness on a major concern of his base but which will have exposed the divisions of its majority, the moderates fearing an attack on international law and the most right-wing wanting to go further.

This text aims to respond to the objections of the British Supreme Court, which judged the project illegal in its previous version out of fear in particular for the safety of asylum seekers sent to Rwanda.

According to the project, the latter, wherever they come from, would have their file examined in Rwanda and would then not be able to return to the United Kingdom under any circumstances, being able to obtain asylum only in the African country if successful.

During its examination, dozens of conservative deputies supported, in vain, amendments aimed at toughening the text, attempting in particular to limit the right of migrants to appeal their expulsion.

Tension also rose a notch after the resignation on Tuesday of two vice-presidents of the Conservative Party, supporters of a harder line, who received the support of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson .

Denounced by the UN

Announced in April 2022 by the latter, this project aimed to discourage the influx of migrants in small boats across the Channel: nearly 30,000 last year after a record in 2022 (45,000 ).

This weekend, five migrants died while trying to reach a boat at sea in freezing water. On Wednesday morning, other boats were seen attempting this perilous crossing, noted an AFP photographer.

But the text has so far never been implemented. A first plane was blocked at the last minute by a decision of the European courts, then the British courts had, up to the Supreme Court, declared the project illegal in its initial version.

To try to save its text, strongly criticized by humanitarian associations, the government signed a new treaty with Rwanda. It is backed by this new bill which defines Rwanda as a safe third country and prevents the return of migrants to their countries of origin.

It also proposes not to apply to evictions certain provisions of the British law on human rights, to limit legal recourse.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Wednesday that the latest version of the draft was “not compatible” with international law.

A little over a year after entering Downing Street, Rishi Sunak is counting on the success of this project to show that he is capable of keeping one of his flagship promises: that of put an end to the arrival of migrant boats on British shores.

His bill will now have to be approved by the unelected members of the House of Lords, who may well amend it.

And if it is adopted in time before the legislative elections, scheduled for the autumn, Labor, led by Keir Starmer, has promised to repeal it if it comes to power after 14 years in opposition.

Too much tightening could also weaken the partnership with Rwanda, which has already received nearly 240 million pounds (280 million euros) from the United Kingdom.

“This money will only be used if the [migrants] come. If this is not the case, we can return it,” assured Rwandan President Paul Kagame, interviewed Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116