Rwanda Bill passes through second reading

On December 12, 2023, the Rwanda Bill successfully passed its second reading, securing a majority with 313 votes in favour. 

The bill seeks to declare, in UK law, that Rwanda is a safe country to send asylum seekers to – overcoming concerns established by the Supreme Court’s ruling that such a policy is unlawful. For more information on the bill, see my blog post here.

However, securing this win was not easy. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spent the day engaging in a series of meetings with different factions, desperately trying to prevent Tory MPs from blocking the bill and spare himself an embarassing defeat.

The support included 308 conservatives and 5 independents who endorsed the bill. In opposition, 270 votes were cast against the bill, with 187 from the Labour party. Whilst no Conservative MPs voted against the bill, 37 chose to abstain, including Suella Braverman – a blow to Sunak’s authority.

MPs have warned that Sunak must strengthen the bill, or risk it being voted down in its third reading in January. 

Sunak now faces chaos as he “struggles to hold together his tumultuous party,” enduring attacks and criticism from all sides. Much hangs in the balance with this bill, as his leadership is already fragile, and Labour leader Keir Starmer has demanded an immediate general election if the bill falls. 

Within the right-wing faction of the party, critics argued that the current form of the bill lacks the strength to prevent legal challenges to deportation, and requires ‘major surgery. Some have called for measures to block interference from foreign courts – although Home Secretary James Cleverly suggested the bill was already “close to the limits of what would be possible.” One Tory rebel source stated that the bill “has been allowed to live another day,” but that it would be “killed next month” if amendments are not made. It would require 29 Tory MPs to vote against the bill to defeat it entirely. 

Furthermore, the centrist One Nation group, which consists of around 100 MPs, voted for the bill but expressed that it would oppose future amendments that would result in the government breaching the rule of law and its international obligations. Nonetheless, Chairman Damian Green stated that “if the government sticks to its guns then it can probably get this legislation through intact.”

As stated by shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, “the Conservatives’ civil war is continuing, and the country is paying the price for this chaos. Today’s debate shows how weak Rishi Sunak is with this Tory psychodrama now dragging on into the New Year.” 

Labour opposed the Rwanda bill, re-asserting its commitment to scrapping the legislation its secures a victory in the next elections. 

This sets the stage for a potentially contentious legislative journey, marked by different perspectives regarding the bill’s adequacy and adherence to international standards.


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