UK parliament to debate controversial Rwanda migrant scheme

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Britain’s plan to send migrants to Rwanda returns to the spotlight Tuesday when lawmakers debate the controversial scheme, testing leader Rishi Sunak’s authority with a general election around the corner.

The prime minister -- in power since October 2022 -- has staked his political future on slashing record levels of regular and irregular migration.

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His government’s Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill is key to that pledge.

But the legislation has reopened schisms in his ruling Conservatives between right-wingers and moderates, meaning Sunak faces a fight to get it on the statute books.

The plan is Sunak’s answer to a unanimous UK Supreme Court ruling in November that deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda is illegal under international law.

It would compel judges to treat Rwanda as a safe third country and proposes giving UK ministers powers to disregard sections of international and British human rights legislation.

The bill has, however, triggered deep factional Tory infighting not seen since the wranglings over Brexit.

Sunak faced down party rebels last month and won a knife-edge parliamentary vote on the Rwanda legislation and must do so again, in a vote expected on Wednesday night.

First, beginning on Tuesday, MPs will debate a series of amendments to the legislation. They are unlikely to be passed but will reveal the extent of opposition that Sunak faces.

More than 50 Tory MPs have publicly backed right-wing amendments that toughen up the bill, including by disapplying international law and restricting asylum seeker’s rights to appeal against being flown to Kigali.

‘Resolve this issue’

If Sunak agrees to those demands then the bill would almost certainly be scuppered by party centrists who oppose any violations of international law and say the legislation already pushes the limits.

Sunak said Monday that he was “talking to all my colleagues” and was “determined to get this new legislation on to the statute book so we can get our Rwanda scheme up and running.”

“I’m confident that the bill we have got is the toughest that anyone has ever seen and it will resolve this issue once and for all,” he told reporters.

Sunak says the law is essential to deter migrants from considering travelling to the UK via unauthorized routes, particularly on small boat crossings from France.

Around 30,000 asylum seekers crossed the English Channel on rudimentary vessels last year. Five died trying to make the journey this past weekend.

Sunak has yet to announce the date of the election but has said it will be held this year.

Some opinion polls put Labour more than 20 points ahead of the Tories, suggesting the ruling party is heading for a landslide defeat.

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