LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 06: Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak departs from number 10, Downing Street ahead of the weekly PMQ session in the House of Commons on December 06, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
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LONDON — U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Thursday that a forthcoming vote on whether illegal migrants can be deported to Rwanda would not be a vote of confidence in his government.
Sunak is battling to keep his Conservative Party united and prevent right-wing factions from rebelling over immigration issues.
The prime minister on Wednesday unveiled a plan to shelve some human rights laws in order to get his flagship Rwanda policy through parliament. He said the new legislation also “fundamentally” addresses concerns over the safety of the African country raised by the Supreme Court.
“This bill ends the merry-go-round of legal challenges that have blocked our policy for so long,” Sunak said in a hastily called press conference, dubbing the bill the “toughest immigration law ever.”
The draft law is due to be introduced to parliament Thursday, with a first vote likely due on Tuesday next week. However, Sunak said he would not treat the outcome as a vote of confidence in his party, nor would he attempt to oust Tory lawmakers who vote against it.
“What this vote is about, is about confidence in parliament to demonstrate that it gets the British people’s frustration,” Sunak said.
It comes a day after Sunak’s Illegal Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick, quit, saying the legislation “does not go far enough” and that “stronger protections” were needed to prevent the paralysis of the controversial scheme. Jenrick was replaced Thursday by Michael Tomlinson.
The prime minister has put plans to stop illegal boat crossings to the U.K. at the heart of his political strategy since the beginning of the year. But he has faced setbacks after his plans to deport migrants to Rwanda were ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court last month.
Sunak said his new proposals would put to bed the 18-month legal battle, which has led to major divisions within his party.
“This bill blocks every single reason that has ever blocked flights to Rwanda from taking off,” he said.
Former Interior Minister Suella Braverman — who was ousted by Sunak last month — told the BBC’s Today Programme Thursday that the prime minister’s Rwanda Bill “will fail” and lose him the next election.
Braverman and other Conservative politicians on the right of the party have demanded that the U.K. quit international treaties in order to regain control of its immigration policy.
However, Sunak said that he was “confident” the plan will pass, and that he would “not allow a foreign court to block” them — a clear nod to the party members who wish for the U.K. to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.
“There is no way to stop people coming here unless you have a deterrent,” he added.
Sunak said that the new bill puts the threshold for entry into the country extremely high, and that exceptions would only be made for asylum seekers facing “real and imminent” risks of serious harm.