United Kingdom: deporting migrants to Rwanda, a high-risk gamble for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

The British bill aimed at deporting migrants to Rwanda approaches a delicate passage, Tuesday January 16, for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, under the threat of seeing his camp torn apart around this controversial text

United Kingdom: deporting migrants to Rwanda, a high-risk gamble for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

The British bill aimed at deporting migrants to Rwanda approaches a delicate passage, Tuesday January 16, for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, under the threat of seeing his camp torn apart around this controversial text. Intended to respond to the objections of the Supreme Court, which blocked a previous version of the project in November, the text passed a first obstacle in Parliament in December. Things are now getting tough for Rishi Sunak, who has placed at the heart of his migration policy the expulsion to Rwanda of migrants who arrived illegally on British soil.

A high-risk bet at the start of the election year where the Conservatives are unable to reduce the gap in the polls and remain led by around twenty points by the Labor opposition led by Keir Starmer. A poll by the YouGov institute published on Monday even suggests that the Tories, in power for fourteen years, could face an electoral debacle worse than when Tony Blair came to power in 1997.

While the text goes through committee on Tuesday and Wednesday, the right wing of the Tories is in ambush to try to toughen up via amendments – supported by around sixty MPs, according to the British press – a text that is too watered down in its eyes. Some conservative MPs, for example, want to completely remove the possibilities of appeal for deported migrants.

After suffering scathing criticism from his former interior minister, Suella Braverman, and the resignation of his secretary of state for immigration, Robert Jenrick, Rishi Sunak now risks facing rebellion from the vice-president. Chairman of the Conservative Party, Lee Anderson. But too radical a tightening of the text risks being to the detriment of the support of moderate conservatives.

“Legal merry-go-round”

The amendments having little chance of being adopted, it is during the next vote in the House of Commons that things risk really getting complicated, for Rishi Sunak, if the right of the party materializes the threat of revolt that it is agitating since weeks. But according to the Times, the prime minister is in a better position than he seems, because "conservatives opposed to the text in its current form find themselves faced with a choice: support a text which, they believe, will not work not, or vote with Labor to ensure the death” of the project.

Rishi Sunak assured Monday that he “spoke to all [his] colleagues”. "I know everyone is unhappy - I'm unhappy about the situation - and wants to see an end to the legal merry-go-round," he told reporters during a visit to Essex, showing his determination to see this project succeed. Announced in April 2022 under Boris Johnson, this has never been implemented. A first plane was blocked at the last minute by a European court decision, then the British courts, all the way to the Supreme Court, declared the project illegal.

To try to save the project, the government signed a new treaty with Rwanda. It is backed by this new bill which defines Rwanda as a safe third country and prevents the return of migrants to their countries of origin. It also proposes not to apply certain provisions of British human rights law to evictions, to limit legal recourse.

Nearly 30,000 migrants crossed the Channel illegally in 2023 on small boats, down sharply from the record reached in 2022 (45,000). Five migrants died this weekend while trying to reach a boat at sea in freezing water. According to French authorities, twelve migrants died last year trying to cross the English Channel, one of the busiest straits in the world.