In a political showdown that held the potential to reshape immigration policy, Chancellor Rishi Sunak successfully navigated a Tory rebellion, securing the passage of the contentious Rwanda bill in the Commons. The bill, aimed at designating Rwanda as a safe country for deporting asylum seekers, garnered a majority of 44 for the government, with 320 votes in favor and 276 against.
Political Landscape: Tories Divided but Sunak Emerges Victorious
The political landscape witnessed only 11 Tory MPs voting against the bill, highlighting a division within the party. Notable figures such as former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick, and others defied party lines, expressing their reservations. However, Sunak managed to secure support from a majority of Conservative MPs, ensuring the bill’s progression.
Rebel Voices: Those Who Opposed the Rwanda Bill
Among the dissenting voices were Suella Braverman, Robert Jenrick, Sir Bill Cash, Sir Simon Clarke, and several others. While only 11 voted against, 18 Conservative MPs chose to abstain, including Lee Anderson, who resigned as deputy party chair in protest. Former Prime Minister Theresa May and veteran MP Sir John Hayes were among those who abstained, reflecting the nuanced opinions within the Tory ranks.
Sunak’s Preparedness: Navigating Right-Wing Opposition
Anticipating a clash with right-wing Tories, Sunak stood prepared for a confrontation over the bill’s core objective – redirecting asylum seekers to Rwanda if they attempt entry via small boat crossings in the Channel. The bill grants ministers the power to override sections of the Human Rights Act, aiming to establish Rwanda as a “safe country.” However, it stops short of allowing the dismissal of the European Convention on Human Rights entirely, a compromise to appease some on the right.
Key Players: Rebel Voices Speak Out
Speaking to Sky News, Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, one of the rebels, explained his decision to ultimately support the bill, stating it was “better than the status quo.” Despite internal challenges, he emphasized that almost everyone in the Tory party seeks the removal of individuals who enter the UK illegally, indicating a point of unity within the party.
Post-Third Reading: Uncertainties Remain
While the bill successfully passed its third reading in the Commons, uncertainties linger as it heads to the House of Lords. Peers in the upper house are expected to introduce amendments, leading to a process known as parliamentary “ping pong,” where the legislation shuttles between the Commons and Lords, potentially undergoing modifications.
Debates and Amendments: Toughening the Legislation
During the Commons debate, MPs considered amendments designed to strengthen the bill. Former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick proposed an amendment challenging the binding nature of rule 39 orders from Strasbourg judges for the UK. Although the amendment faced majority rejection, 67 MPs, including 61 Tories, expressed discontent, revealing significant dissatisfaction with elements of the bill.
Downing Street’s Engagement: Managing Doubts and Resignations
Downing Street actively engaged with MPs expressing doubts about the legislation. This proactive approach followed the resignation of three MPs – Lee Anderson, Brendan Clarke-Smith, and Jane Stevenson – who backed amendments presented by Sir Bill Cash and Robert Jenrick. The resignations underscored the internal discord within the Conservative Party, prompting Downing Street to address concerns and secure crucial support.
Government’s Perspective: A Milestone in Immigration Policy
A Number 10 spokesperson hailed the bill’s passage as a “major step” in the government’s plan to curb illegal migration. The spokesperson emphasized the legislation’s toughness, making it clear that those entering the country illegally would not be allowed to stay. The government highlighted the substantial reduction in boat crossings, attributing it to their robust plan and the landmark legislation.
Conclusion: Navigating the Future of Immigration Policy
Rishi Sunak’s success in steering the Rwanda bill through a potentially tumultuous political terrain marks a significant moment in the government’s pursuit of a stringent immigration strategy. The internal divisions within the Conservative Party, although evident, did not derail the chancellor’s objectives. As the bill progresses to the House of Lords, the uncertainties and debates surrounding its provisions will likely continue, shaping the future trajectory of UK immigration policy.