• Thu. May 30th, 2024

House of Commons votes in favour of Sunak’s Rwanda bill

ByAva Lang

Dec 22, 2023
Rishi Sunak speaking behind a podium on No. 10 Downing Street.

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons on 12 December. 

It received a 44 vote majority with 313 ayes to 269 nays. 

The bill was announced on 6 December 2023 by Home Secretary James Cleverly as emergency legislation, where it passed its first reading the next day. 

This bill states that Rwanda is a safe country for asylum seekers and every “decision-maker” must treat it as such. These “decision-makers,” as defined in the bill, include the Secretary of State, immigration officers and a court or tribunal. 

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill comes after the Supreme Court ruled on 15 November that the Rwanda asylum plan was unlawful. 

Read More: “When I said I would stop the boats, I meant it.” – PM determined to go through with Rwanda plan, despite Supreme Court ruling

The plan proposed sending asylum seekers and identified illegal immigrants to Rwanda to have their application processed. If successful, they would not have been permitted to return to the UK. 

The unanimous ruling by the judges found deficiencies in the Rwandan asylum system, as these pose a “real risk” for asylum seekers to be returned home and face “persecution or other inhumane treatment”.

The President of the Supreme Court, Lord Reed, made clear that Rwanda is not a safe country for asylum seekers. 

However, the emergency legislation seeks to disapply relevant parts of the European Court of Human Rights, the UK Human Rights Act and the Supreme Court’s ruling. 

After the passing of the bill, Sunak stated on X – formerly Twitter

“The British people should decide who gets to come to this country – not criminal gangs or foreign courts. That’s what this bill delivers. 

“We will now work to make it law so that we can get flights going to Rwanda and stop the boats.”

In the run up to the vote, some Conservative MPs expressed their concerns with the bill.  

Read More: Sunak’s new cabinet: a guide to who’s in and who’s out

Tory moderate Robert Buckland suggested on LBC Radio that the bill should be softened to avoid “pointless legal fights” with the courts and prevent a breach with international law. 

On the right-wing of the party, Euroceptic Sir Bill Cash said the bill did not go “far enough to deliver the policy as intended” and is in need of “very significant amendments.”

Ultimately, 37 Conservative MPs either abstained or did not vote. Sunak has said he will listen to suggestions and meet with rebels over Christmas.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We will have discussions with colleagues, we will listen to any suggestions on amendments.”

However, right-wing factions of the Conservative party have warned that they will block the legislation after the third reading if their amendments to toughen the bill are not met. 

Meanwhile, centre-right MPs warn they may not support the bill if these toughened amendments are met. 

Read More: Scottish Government publishes migration and asylum plans

In response to the vote, Amnesty International UK’s Chief Executive Sacha Deshmukh said: 

“Stripping people of their rights and shipping them off to Rwanda when they’re seeking asylum in the UK is a clear dereliction of this country’s responsibilities toward some of the world’s most desperate people. 

“It is an attack on the basic principle that human rights are universal.”

The Chief Executive further commented that: 

“This bill should be dropped in its entirety along with this Government’s policy to avoid properly processing people’s asylum claims in the UK.”

A third reading, with the newly proposed amendments, will be voted on in the Commons in January. For the bill to be defeated, 29 Tory MPs would need to vote against it. 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrives in Downing Street” by UK Prime Minister is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.