What is the Rwanda bill and why is so much at stake for Rishi Sunak?

Some ministers are even warning Tory rebels that should the bill be voted down, it would collapse the government.

Rishi Sunak

The vote tonight on the government’s Safety of Rwanda Bill is being billed as the biggest test of Rishi Sunak’s premiership. Some ministers are even warning Tory rebels that should the bill be voted down, it would collapse the government.

This is what is at stake for Sunak, for whom this is a crisis entirely of his own making, as he champions an unworkable policy that has once again reignited yet another Tory civil war which threatens to depose yet another Tory leader.

So, what exactly is the Safety of Rwanda Bill and why does it matter so much for Rishi Sunak? We’ve done a short explainer below.

What is the Rwanda deportations scheme?

Rishi Sunak has promised to “stop the boats” coming across the Channel and the Rwanda deportation scheme is a central part of that pledge. The scheme was originally agreed in April 2022 by then Prime Minister Boris Johnson and is intended, according to the government, to deter asylum seekers from making the dangerous journey across the Channel in small boats or inflatable dinghies.

Under the plan, anyone who arrived in Britain ‘illegally’ after Jan. 1 last year faced being sent to Rwanda, some 4,000 miles away. On arrival to Rwanda, they could be granted refugee status and allowed to stay. If not, they could apply to settle there on other grounds, or seek asylum in another “safe third country”.

So far, despite the costs of the scheme having more than doubled to £290 million, no deportation flight has taken off due to legal challenges.

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the Rwanda policy was unlawful as it leaves people sent to Rwanda open to human rights breaches.

Determined to push ahead with the scheme, despite the ruling of the Supreme Court, Rishi Sunak has brought forward emergency legislation, the Safety of Rwanda Bill. It compels judges to treat Rwanda as a safe country and gives ministers the powers to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act.

Why is the vote the biggest test of Sunak’s premiership?

The vote is being billed as the biggest test of Sunak’s premiership because the Prime Minister has staked so much of his authority on ‘stopping the boats’. Rather than drop the policy after the Supreme Court ruling, he is determined to push it through. The Prime Minister has very much chosen to make the Rwanda policy the defining issue of his premiership. Should the bill fall, it would prove to be embarrassing for Sunak, especially after he begged right-wing Tory MPs this morning to back it during a breakfast invitation to Downing Street.

Sunak also faces a rebellion over the bill from both wings of his party. Arch Brexiteer MPs, such as those belonging to the Eurosceptic ERG, say that the bill in its revised form does not go far enough. Other critics on the right of the party who want the Prime Minister to go further, include former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick as well as Suella Braverman.

On the other hand, a number of One Nation Tories have expressed concerns that the bill could breach international agreements and undermine the rule of law, something which they are not prepared to support.

With the debate underway, Tory MP Bob Neil tore into his own party over the bill. He told the Commons: “The day a Conservative Party thinks the ends justify the means, that any single policy objective overrides the checks and balances of our constitution, it has ceased to be a Conservative Party.”

Voting takes place around 7 p.m. tonight. Just 29 Tories need to vote against, or 57 abstain, for the Rwanda bill to fall.

Basit Mahmood is the editor of Left Foot Forward

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