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UK Lawmakers Vote in Favour of Rwanda Migration Bill

British MPs voted Tuesday to maintain the government’s proposal to put certain asylum seekers on one-way flights to Rwanda, preserving a policy that has enraged human rights groups and cost the United Kingdom at least $300 million with not a single flight taking off.

The House of Commons approved the government’s Rwanda bill in principle, 313-269, sending it to the Senate for further review. The outcome averts a defeat that would have devastated Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s authority and thrown his administration into disarray. It gives Sunak some breathing room, but it sets up more bickering in the coming weeks.

The measure seeks to overturn a verdict by the United Kingdom Supreme Court that the idea to deport migrants who arrive in Britain by boat across the English Channel to Rwanda, where they would stay permanently, is illegal.

The bill is the consequence of a new agreement reached on December 5 by Rwanda and the United Kingdom.

British Home Secretary James Cleverly stated that the legally binding agreement would “address all the issues” made by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom when it ruled last month that the controversial program was illegal.

However, the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill is being criticized by both Conservative centrists who believe it skirts international law and Conservative hardliners who believe it does not go far enough to ensure migrants who arrive in the UK without permission can be deported.

Following their threat to filibuster the law on Tuesday, many hardliners abstained in the expectation of toughening it up later in the parliamentary process.

Sunak stated on social media following the vote that “the British people should decide who gets to come to this country — not criminal gangs or foreign courts.” That is what this Bill provides.”

Totemic issue

Sunak has made the Rwanda plan a totemic issue, key to his commitment to “stop the boats” transporting undocumented migrants across the English Channel from France. More than 29,000 persons have done so this year, compared to 46,000 for the entire year of 2022.

Sunak believes that keeping his promise will help the Conservatives to close a large opinion-poll deficit with the opposition Labour Party before an election next year.

The government has already paid at least 240 million pounds ($300 million) to Rwanda, which promised in 2022 to process and settle hundreds of asylum applicants from the United Kingdom each year. Sunak contends that this will discourage migrants from undertaking dangerous travels and disrupt the business model of people-smuggling groups.

The idea has faced numerous legal challenges, and Britain’s highest court declared last month that it was unlawful, citing Rwanda as a dangerous destination for refugees. In response, Britain and Rwanda signed a pact promising to increase migrant protections. Sunak’s government claims that the treaty empowers it to introduce legislation proclaiming Rwanda a safe destination, regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision.

If passed by Parliament, the measure would allow the government to “disapply” provisions of UK human rights law in the case of Rwanda-related refugee petitions.

Legislators on the party’s authoritarian side believe the measure is too lenient since it allows migrants to contest deportation in both UK courts and the European Court of Human Rights.

More centrist Conservatives are concerned that it will undermine the courts and may violate international law. Former Justice Secretary Robert Buckland informed legislators that “this Parliament is sovereign, but we also have the independence of the courts and the rule of law to bear in mind” – despite this, he voted in favor of the bill.

Home Secretary James Cleverly informed MPs that “the actions that we are taking, whilst novel, whilst very much pushing at the edge of the envelope, are within the framework of international law.”

Human rights groups argue that sending asylum seekers to a country more than 4,000 miles (6,500 kilometers) away with no possibility of ever returning to the United Kingdom is impracticable and unethical. They also point to Rwanda’s abysmal human rights record, which includes claims of torture and the execution of government opponents.

Human Rights Watch’s U.K. Director, Yasmine Ahmed, called the vote “a defeat for human decency and a hammer blow for the rule of law.”

“A government willing to subvert the rule of law by breaching human rights and undermining judicial oversight is a dangerous prospect,” Ahmed said.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer called the bill a “gimmick.”

“It’s built on sand. It isn’t going to work,” he said.

Sunak would have suffered a significant setback if he had been defeated on Tuesday, and it is possible that restive comrades, concerned about the party’s election prospects, would have pushed for a leadership change. Sunak will face a no-confidence vote if 53 Conservative legislators, or 15% of the total, demand for one.

Others think that removing yet another prime minister without a national election would be disastrous. Sunak is the third Conservative prime minister after the party evicted both Boris Johnson and his replacement, Liz Truss, in the 2019 election.

Written by PH

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