The UK’s ‘Safety of Rwanda’ bill has passed the British House of Commons and gone through its first reading in the House of Lords. The bill was passed in spite of fears of a ‘rebellion’ by a number of conservative MP’s who were seeking amendments to the bill. The bill passed the House of Commons 320-276.
The Safety in Rwanda 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.
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”.
While the bill has of course gone under severe scrutiny by the opposition Labour party, it has also witnessed significant criticism from within the Conservative party itself, mostly from those who fear the legislation will not be enough to actually begin flights to Rwanda.
While only 11 conservative MP’s ended up voting against the bill, an amendment put forward by former immigration minister Robert Jenrick received the backing of 61 MP’s. Jenrick’s amendment was not approved, however the high level of backing it received is the largest rebellion since the beginning of PM Sunak’s premiership.
The amendment put forward by Jenrick will significantly limit the grounds on which individuals can appeal their deportation. Jenrick’s concern is 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.
PM Sunak has insisted that the Conservative Party is “completely united in wanting to stop the boats”.
As a part of the whole plan, the UK has paid Rwanda 240 million British pounds (30.5 million USD), and is set to pay them 50 million more. Questions have been raised as to if the UK would receive back those funds if the Rwanda plan fails to ever take off.
The answer..? Is rather inconclusive thus far. Speaking to a BBC journalist at the sidelines of the World Economic Forum summit in Davos, Rwandan President Paul Kagame stated that the money was “only going to be used if those people will come. If they don’t come, we can return the money”.
However, in a government statement later released, the Rwandan government stated that “under the terms of the agreement, Rwanda has no obligation to return any of the funds paid”. They further added that if the UK requests a refund, it would be considered.
“If no migrants come to Rwanda under the scheme, and the UK government wishes to request a refund of the portion of the funding allocated to support the migrants, we will consider this request” -Rwandan Government Spokeswoman Yolande Makolo
In a press conference held by PM Sunak on Thursday, the day after the bill passed the House of Commons, Sunak was asked about the potential refund, and if he would “fight to return taxpayers money” should the plan fail. Sunak did not explicitly answer the question, stating it was his full intention to ensure that the plan succeeds and that planes take off for Rwanda “by Spring”.
The Prime Minister updates on the plan to stop the boats after MPs voted to pass the Safety of Rwanda Bill. https://t.co/Rdgj9RxQOW
— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) January 18, 2024
When asked about the legal obstacles the UK government was facing with enacting the deal, President Kagame said that it was “not Rwanda’s problem”.
“Ask the UK, it is the UK’s problem, not Rwanda’s problem” -Paul Kagame
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 poor quality and overcrowded boats capsize.
I have a plan to stop the boats and it’s working. Small boat arrivals are down.
Labour can’t say how they’d stop the boats because they have no plan and would take us back to square one.
That’s why we must stick with our plan to deliver the long-term change our country needs.
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) January 18, 2024
According to PM Sunak the overall plan is working, with him claiming that small boat entries into the UK were down a third in 2023 from 2022. January 2024, however has already seen several hundred migrants cross into the UK, with 358 crossing on the 17th alone across 8 different boats.