British plan to deport migrants to Rwanda passes first hurdle in Parliament

London (AFP) – The British government’s controversial bill to deport migrants who arrive illegally in the UK to Rwanda cleared the first hurdle in Parliament on Tuesday, giving Prime Minister Rishi Sunak a break.

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After about seven hours of debate, the text was approved by 313 votes in favor and 269 votes against in the House of Commons.

The text aims to confront the objections of the British Supreme Court, which declared the previous project illegal on November 15.

But this new plan divided the Conservative majority and for Sunak, who despite everything has not yet won the match, Tuesday’s vote was decisive.

Defeating Sunak on this plan, by voting against his own party, when the issue of immigration dominates discussions in British politics ahead of next year’s general election, would have led to Sunak’s political grave.

“We will get the bill into law and we can get flights to Rwanda off the ground,” Sunak responded on X (formerly Twitter).

Internal rebellion

Before this vote, hardline Brexiteers, in their formation, the influential European Research Group, announced that they would not support the text at this stage, considering it too moderate.

Representative Mark Francois, from the hard-line conservative wing, indicated that they would seek to amend it, setting a date for January for the continuation of this series.

However, he did not vote against it because, according to the lists published by Parliament, no Conservative parliamentarian had taken this path.

Influential names in the party were among the 38 Conservative members who abstained from voting, including former Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Robert Jenrick, the immigration chief who resigned last week in protest against the plan.

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Before the vote, Labor said potential defeat would lead to an early general election.

In this way, Sunak remains in a delicate position, with the party split after the more conservative members of his party rebelled. It is clear that voting intentions polls favor the Labor Party before the election.

The scheme was launched in April 2022 by Boris Johnson’s Conservative government, but has not yet led to the expulsion of any migrants.

The first flights carrying migrants to be deported were ready to take off to Rwanda in June 2022, but the European Court of Human Rights suspended the implementation of the project.

London is betting on this solution to deter migrants who cross the English Channel on small rubber boats.

About 45,700 people arrived in the country this way in 2022, a record number. So far this year, around 29,700 people have arrived in the UK on small boats.

Immigration is key to elections

Immigration was at the heart of the debate over the Brexit referendum in 2016, and is likely to be at the heart of elections scheduled for next year.

In mid-November, the highest court in Britain ruled that it was illegal to send migrants to Rwanda, considering that they may be subject to deportation to their country of origin, where they may be exposed to persecution.

To answer the Supreme Court’s objections, the new text introduced on Tuesday designates Rwanda as a safe country and prohibits the expulsion of migrants from there to their country of origin.

The new plan proposes not to apply some points in British human rights law, to limit legal remedies.

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However, Tory hardliners believe London should withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights and other treaties to prevent all legal challenges from succeeding.

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