UK’s Illegal Immigrant Deportation Bill Makes Progress

UK’s Illegal Immigrant Deportation Bill Makes Progress


Slow Progress

The UK’s “Safety of Rwanda” bill has finished and passed its second reading in the UK’s House of Lords. Despite its passage thus far, it has undergone severe scrutiny from a number of the Lords, a number of which have stated their intention to pursue amendments to the bill, which would see key powers removed. A small group of Liberal Democrat Lords, attempted to have the bill scrapped entirely, which failed.

The Safety of Rwanda bill is a part of PM Rishi Sunak’s plan to deport illegal immigrants and illegal asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The bill has passed its second reading in the House of Lords in a 206-84 vote. Presently, the bill sits in the committee stage. Following this, it will head to the report stage, and then the third reading. Should it pass these stages, it will then head to the King for royal assent.

Scrutiny, not Blockage

While the bill has faced significant criticism from the unelected House of Lords, many of them have also stated that it is not their job to block legislation passed by the House of Commons, but to scrutinize and amend.

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, stated that the bill “obscures the truth that all people, asylum seekers included, are of great value”, adding that the bill was “damaging” to the UK’s reputation, as well as to “national unity”. The Archbishop stated that the UK “can do better”, however stated he would not be voting against the bill.

The Archbishop of Canterbury meeting with Pope Francis in the Vatican on January 25th, 2024 (Photo from Vatican Media).

The sentiment was similarly expressed in the Labour Party’s Home Office spokesman Lord Vernon Coaker, who stated that while the Labour party opposed the bill, they would not seek to block it.

The Bill

The Safety of Rwanda bill seeks to establish Rwanda as a ‘safe’ country according to UK law. The reasoning for this is a deal the UK has signed with Rwanda in order to deport illegal immigrants and illegal asylum seekers to Rwanda, meant to be a deterrent for small boat crossings into the UK from the English Channel.

The deal and relevant legislation, however, were struck down by the UK’s supreme court in November on the grounds that Rwanda was not a ‘safe’ country for those being deported. The court claimed that deportees could face mistreatment in Rwanda, deportation from Rwanda to their nation of origin or a third country, and that Rwanda’s capabilities to receive an influx of deportees from the UK was not good enough.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and conservative MP James Cleverly tabled the Safety of Rwanda bill in response, after signing a new agreement with Rwanda. The new agreement, signed December 5th, 2023, carries with it provisions to ensure that people sent to Rwanda cannot be deported from Rwanda to another country.

UK Home Secretary James Cleverly (left) and Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Vincent Biruta (right) at the signing of the treaty in Kigali, on December 5th, 2023 (Photo from Olivier Mugwiza).

Additionally, the bill seeks to halt legal challenges from entities outside the UK, such as the European Court of Human Rights, which has prevented deportations to Rwanda in the past. PM Sunak said the “decision will lie entirely with ministers”.

A Turbulent Journey

The Safety of Rwanda bill has faced a series of obstacles since its creation just last month in December. Within Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party in the House of Commons, a group of MP’s seeking amendments to the bill spawned what is the largest Conservative ‘rebellion’ so far in Sunak’s Premiership.

An amendment put forward by former immigration minister Robert Jenrick received the backing of 61 MP’s. The amendment put forward by Jenrick would have significantly limited the grounds on which individuals can appeal their deportation. Jenrick’s concern was that the deportation plans will be bogged down by individual appeals in a “merry-go-round” of appeals, which will halt planes from leaving the UK for Rwanda.

Despite a number of the MP’s stating they may abstain, or even vote against the bill, only 11 Conservative MP’s ended up voting against the bill, Jenrick among them.

Stop the Boats

The Rwanda deportation plan is the flagship of PM Sunak’s ‘Stop the Boats’ initiative, which is meant to deter illegal immigrants from making the journey across the English Channel to the UK. The journey is very dangerous, and one oftentimes organized by human trafficking groups. Journeys made by migrants to various destinations in Europe regularly result in fatalities after the usually poor quality and often overcrowded boats capsize.

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray is a published journalist and historicist with over 5 years experience in writing. His primary focus is on East and West African affairs.
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