Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces a potentially embarrassing rebellion over his Rwanda immigration policy, as the Bill returns to the Commons for a second round of voting.
The Bill returns to the Commons on January 16 and 17, 2024, to move forward with a government plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda and act as a deterrent to those looking to cross the English Channel.
Yesterday, on January 16, 2024, PM Sunak was confronted with the loss of two senior Conservative MPs, as both Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith quit as deputy chairmen of the party. The resignations came after they urged the Government to support a harder line on immigration policy and believed they could not push for such measures while retaining collective responsibility, outlined in a joint statement. Currently, it is reported that 60 Tory MPs had backed rebel amendments to the bill, but not against the bill as a whole.
In their resignation letter, the former ministers outlined commitments to the “clear deterrent” the Rwanda plan provided, despite the proposal being marred by lengthy legal challenges and unpopularity as polling suggests 40% believe in repealing the policy if Labour wins the next election, polling commissioned by YouGov. Lee Anderson spoke on GB News, a network he is employed by, that the legislation needed “beefing up” and that he wouldn’t vote on something “which I don’t believe in”. Anderson’s employment at GB News is allowed but raises concerns over impartiality, and political allegiance must be made clear to the audience, according to Ofcom.
The two ministers are purported to be joined by at least four other Conservative MPs. These include former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick and former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who have both publicly said that they will vote against the legislation if it is not toughened up. An article by the BBC reported that the government could be preparing to offer a concession that would see official guidelines changes that could ignore rulings by the European Court of Human Rights that blocked deportations.
Speaking in Prime Ministers Question Time this Wednesday, the Scottish National Party’s representative in Westminster, Stephen Flynn, said the UK government “is tearing itself apart over how quickly it can send vulnerable people on a place to Rwanda” and that the anger of his backbenchers did not compare “to the anger the public has towards his party”. The Prime Minister responded to the comments by the SNP representative by slamming the announcement by Holyrood of the new 45 per cent tax band for those earning over £75,000 per year, as reported by the FT.
The Rwanda scheme has previously been declared unlawful by the Supreme Court, owing to substantial grounds that asylum seekers could be returned to their country of origin once in Rwanda, known as refoulement. The practice of refoulement goes against international laws laid out in conventions and documents in the European Convention on Human Rights, the UN Refugee Convention, and the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In response to this James Cleverly, Home Secretary, and Rwandan foreign minister signed a new treaty that contains safeguards and assurances over the treatment of asylum claimants, but remains controversial among critics, like Human Rights Watch.
The unpopularity of Rishi Sunak was starkly outlined in a recent poll that predicted a 1997-style landslide defeat in the next general election. The YouGov poll surveying 14,000 people, published by the Telegraph newspaper, predicted that Labour would win 385 seats in parliament, while Conservatives would retain just 169, representing an 11.5% swing towards Starmer.
Speaking after PMQ’s on BBC’s Politics Live, Farming minister Mark Spencer remained confident to “make sure the Rwanda plan works” and that “we get people on those planes” while delivering the bill with “robust” checks”. Labour MP Liz Kendall, Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, retorted by questioning whether ‘£4 million per person is value for money?”, the estimated cost of the individual removal of migrants under the £400 million estimate of the scheme by the Labour Party. Officially, the UK government says £240 million has been sent to Rwanda so far, while in the 2024-35 financial year, a further £50 million is expected to be spent.
Currently, it is unknown how many people will vote against the bill, as only 30 Tory MPs would be needed to join opposition politicians to succeed in voting down the bill.
Photo Credit: The Times
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