British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak battled a test of his authority as he tried to deal with a Tory rebellion and brutal attacks from Sir Kier Starmer during PMQ before his flagship Rwanda policy went to vote in the House of Commons and was eventually passed. Wednesday’s session saw Starmer call out Sunak’s “farcical” government and state that the rebellion of 60 right-wing Tory MPs has left him “brutally exposed. However, in the end, only 11 of the 60 rebels voted against the legislation in its third and final reading.
The Labour Party leader accused the government of spending “hundreds of millions of pounds on a removals policy that doesn’t remove anyone”. So far the government has paid 240 million pounds to Rwanda under this policy but is yet to send asylum seekers there. A further 50 million pounds is expected to be paid in the 2024-25 financial year.
Members of Parliament debated for almost six hours in the Commons about the bill - while some argued that it needed more toughening up, others stated that it should be scrapped altogether fearing that it violates human rights. Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman argued that it was necessary to “stop the boats” and that this was their last chance “to get it right”. She claimed that there was “a fatal flaw” in the bill which enforces the UK to abide by international law and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) injunctions. Referring to the event that took place in June of 2022 when a plane full of “illegal immigrants” was stopped from being sent to Rwanda, Braverman said, “The foreign court overrode the will of the British people to control our borders and that is the problem we are trying to fix."
Tim Farron, former Liberal Democrat leader, agreed that the boats that bring illegal immigrants needs to be stopped but he feels that this bill is not an answer to that. He stood against Braverman’s claims and said that the legislation was based on “false premises” and that “ducking” international law would paint a negative picture of Britain across the world and bring to question its ability to uphold the rule of law.
Former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick supported Braverman and suggested an amendment to the bill that prevented the European Court from stopping flights to Rwanda. This is under Rule 39 of the ECHR which critics - Tory rebels- call the unfair “pyajama injunction”. However, this amendment was rejected later on in the Commons by 536 votes to 65 - a government majority of 471.
However, this victory has come at a cost. Sunak, who became the prime minister in extremely chaotic circumstances, is aiming for another term in office by winning the upcoming elections. He knows that can happen only if he wins the trust of the people of this country by showing them that considerable progress has been made in solving the issues that have plagued this nation for long.
With the Conservatives trailing the opposition Labour Party in the opinion polls, many feel that the Tory rebels chose to vote in favour of the Bill fearing that if they didn’t it might lead to a collapse of the government before the elections. The anger of rebels towards Sunak for not paying heed to their concerns might worry him again soon as they have promised to continue building pressure on him to toughen the plan.
Sunak had made the illegal immigration problem the centerpiece of his government’s plan of action and with this victory, he could move on to tackling other issues such as Britain’s failing economy. As he survives the rebellion, Sunak, in a press conference on Thursday morning, urges the House of Lords to pass the Bill - which might happen despite some pushback - and maintains that they “have a plan and the plan working”.
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