Last Updated: December 12, 2023, 12:15 IST
London, United Kingdom (UK)
Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at 10 Downing Street. (PTI)
UK Sunak faces crisis over immigration policy amid covid inquiry. Rwanda plan challenged as Sunak battles for political survival
Rishi Sunak faces the biggest parliamentary test of his one-year-old premiership on Tuesday when the British lawmakers vote on his divisive plan to send asylum seekers to live in Rwanda. A defeat would undermine Sunak’s authority, as he has committed to stopping the influx of boats carrying asylum seekers across the English Channel.
UK’s top court last month ruled that the East African country was an unsafe place to send refugees and that the government’s plan would breach international law. After the court’s verdict, Sunak agreed to a new deal with Rwanda and brought forward emergency legislation designed to override domestic and international human rights law that would prevent deportations. The legislation has deeply divided his party and left lawmakers worried about Britain breaching its human rights obligations, and other politicians, who contend it does not go far enough.
On Monday, some right-wing Conservatives called for a full rewrite of the legislation, saying it would not stop asylum seekers from successfully appealing against deportation. One member of parliament in this group said they had not decided whether to abstain or vote against the government.
On Tuesday evening, the British Parliament will hold the first vote on the draft law. Around 30 Conservative members’ opposition is all it will take to defeat the bill. Even if it goes through, the Indian-origin PM is likely to face attempts to toughen it up with amendments at later stages, as well as opposition in the House of Lords, the unelected upper chamber.
Defeat would be a huge embarrassment for Sunak – no government has lost a vote at this early stage in the parliamentary process since 1986. Such a development might potentially instigate another leadership crisis for a party that has seen five prime ministers in the past seven years. The battle over the legislation has echoes of parliamentary showdowns over Brexit from 2017-19 when former Prime Minister Theresa May suffered repeated defeats, which eventually led to her exit.
Sunak, who replaced Liz Truss as prime minister last year after she was forced out, has made stopping boat arrivals one of his biggest priorities. The plan is being closely watched by other countries considering ways to halt immigration. This year about 29,000 asylum seekers have arrived on the southern coast of England, down around one-third compared with last year.
A key promise
However, they remain a highly visible symbol of the government’s failure to control Britain’s borders – a key promise of campaigners for Brexit. The government has already paid 240 million pounds to Rwanda even though it only can settle hundreds of refugees a year from Britain and no one has yet been sent to the country.
A day ahead of the crucial vote, British lawmakers from different factions of the governing Conservative Party on Monday held meetings throughout the day to decide how to vote. A centrist group of lawmakers in the One Nation faction recommended that its members back the bill but warned that they would not accept any amendments that toughened the legislation at a later stage.
(With agency inputs)