Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, won a vote in Parliament on Tuesday 12th December 2023 regarding an emergency bill to re-energise plans to send asylum seekers arriving illegally in Britain to Rwanda. This came after the British Supreme Court ruled the previous policy was unlawful.
Sunak’s goal is to use the migrant deportation bill to tackle the issue of people crossing the Channel in small boats. In this article, we’ll look at the migrant deportation bill and what it could mean for immigration law in the UK.
Immigration in the UK
Taking control of borders and ending free movement was a big deal in the 2016 Brexit vote, ranking as one of the top concerns for voters. However, despite the Conservatives pledging to keep net migration under 100,000 people per year, in 2022 it soared to 745,000.
While the numbers speak volumes about the challenges in managing migration to the UK, some of this increase can be attributed to new visa routes for individuals from Ukraine and Hong Kong. That being said, migration remains a hot topic in Parliament and the UK as a whole, as reflected by the recent controversy over the migrant deportation bill.
As a result of the sharp rise, it appears Sunak’s government is on a mission to fulfill their promise, unveiling measures to potentially cut migration numbers by 300,000 including:
Increasing the minimum salary for skilled jobs by a third;
Putting a stop to foreign health workers bringing in family on their visas;
Increasing the surcharge migrants pay for using the health service by 66%;
Upping the minimum income for family visas.
What is Britain’s Rwanda Scheme?
The Rwanda scheme, spearheaded back in April 2022 by then-PM Boris Johnson, was all about putting the brakes on migrants taking the risky journal across the Channel and disrupting operations led by people smugglers.
Under the original plan, anyone arriving in Britain illegally after January 1st 2022 was to be sent to Rwanda. On arriving in Rwanda, migrants would either get refugee status and stay put or if not, apply to settle there on other grounds or seek asylum in another “safe third country.”
However, the first deportation flight planned for June 2022 was blocked by European judges. And, last month, the Supreme Court backed this decision because migrants faced the risk of being sent back to their homelands or other places where they could be at risk if sent to Rwanda.
Despite these blockers, Sunak’s government is still committed to “stopping the boats” and following through with the Rwanda plan. The rationale for this is that Britain is currently spending over 3 billion pounds per year processing asylum applications, and it’s costing about 8 million pounds per day to house migrants waiting for decisions in hotels and other accommodations. Sunak has also made a promise to clear the backlog of asylum applications waiting to be processed which in August hit a record high of 175,457, including dependents.
What is the Emergency Rwanda Bill?
The Emergency Rwanda Bill is designed to allay fears about what happens to migrants if they are sent there. Sunak has agreed to a treaty with Rwanda to confirm that anyone sent there won’t be redirected anywhere else but back to Britain in a bid to label Rwanda as a safe country. The treaty promises that:
A brand new independent monitoring committee will be established to keep tabs on Rwanda and make sure they’re holding up their end of the bargain;
The UK will cover the costs of British and Commonwealth judges overseeing appeals;
The UK will pay for accommodation and living expenses for those relocated to Rwanda for up to five years.
The emergency bill also puts the power in the hands of ministers to decide on complying with any European Court of Human Rights Injunctions that try to halt a Rwanda flight while an individual legal case is in motion. If this legislation gets the green light, Sunak hopes flights to Rwanda will kick off early next year.
But, it’s not all smooth sailing. Right-wing critics, who are keen on Britain leaving the European Convention on Human Rights, argue that asylum seekers will still get a chance to challenge being sent to Rwanda based on their situations, and there are concerns that the legislation could be blocked by the courts like before. To add to the drama, Sunak’s immigration minister stepped down.
Is the Rwanda bill likely to become law?
In the first parliamentary vote, the bill was passed with a working majority of 56, with 313 votes in favour and 269 against. However, about 30 right-wing Conservatives abstained and are threatening to vote against it later unless it toughens up. The government’s response to this is that while the law will still allow individual legal challenges, the chances of that happening are slim. Sunak also maintains that the bill is already pushing the limits of international law compliance.
On the flip side, some legal experts continue to argue that Britain could still be bound by European Court of Human Rights findings, potentially issuing injunctions to block deportation flights. This is ruffling feathers among some Conservative critics. And, if 29 rebels pop up, the government could face a defeat on the bill in a future vote.
Furthermore, even if the bill gets through the Commons, the House of Lords might throw a spanner in the works, holding it back from becoming law before the expected national election next year. The Labour Party has already thrown down the gauntlet by vowing to scrap the policy if they win the election.
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