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Overcoming Tory Rebellion, Rishi Sunak Pushes Rwanda Bill Through UK Parliament

The government won comfortably by 320 votes to 276.

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Rishi Sunak heaved a sigh of relief after he overcame Conservatives rebellions on Wednesday, 17 January, to win a close parliamentary vote on his plan to send migrants to Rwanda.

Right-wing Conservatives were strongly working towards crushing the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, but they backed down, and the government won comfortably by 320 votes to 276.

"The passing of the bill tonight marks a major step in our plan to stop the boats," said a spokesperson for Sunak's office.

"We have a plan, we have made progress, and this landmark legislation will ensure we get flights off to Rwanda, deter people from making perilous journeys across the Channel and stop boats."

Sunak, who came into power in October 2022, had been working on the plan to send off illegal immigrants to the central African nation of Rwanda.

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The Timeline

The move first gained attention when the UK and Rwanda inked an agreement in April 2022 to send some migrants, who arrive in small boats across the English Channel, to Rwanda to process their asylum claims. If accepted, they would be allowed to stay in Rwanda and cannot return to the UK.

The plan to send immigrants to Rwanda has faced legal challenges, preventing any deportations so far. In June 2022, the European Court of Human Rights halted the first deportation flight. While the High Court in London deemed the Rwanda plan legal in December, it mandated the government to assess each individual's circumstances before deportation.

In June, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of asylum-seekers, calling the plan unlawful as Rwanda is not a "safe third country," posing a risk of migrants being sent back to their home countries. The government appealed this at the Supreme Court, arguing a thorough risk assessment and assurance of Rwanda's commitment to protect migrants' rights.

In November 2023, The United Kingdom's highest court – The Supreme Court, rejected Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's key immigration policy. Five justices of the top court ruled that asylum seekers would be “at real risk of ill-treatment” given that they could be sent back to their home countries after touching down in Rwanda.

The Rwanda policy's most vocal supporter, former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, was sacked by PM Sunak on 13 November over a series of statements regarding the London Police's handling of pro-Palestine marches in the city. Braverman regularly made headlines for describing migrants as a "hurricane" heading for the UK and called homelessness a "lifestyle choice."

 What Next?

The bill has cleared its third and final hurdle; it will then be moved to the upper chamber, the House of Lords, where it will need to be approved by the unelected members for it to become a law.

If the legislation is passed, it would compel judges to treat Rwanda as a safe third country.

But going by the numbers, it’s to be believed that the government does not hold a majority in the Lords. This would mean the members will scrutinise the proposals and suggest amendments. 

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