17 JANUARY 2024 | NEWS
The Government’s flagship legislation to aim to keep one of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s five main pledges to the electorate has passed its Third Reading in the House of Commons tonight.
The Bill was intended to shore up the Government’s scheme to deport illegal migrants to Rwanda, where they would still be able to apply for asylum, but not in the UK.
While tensions had been high in Westminster, the Bill was ultimately voted through by MPs by 320 votes to 276, and several Opposition amendments were defeated.
Number 10 was said to have been “confident” that the legislation would pass the Commons tonight, despite significant speculation to the contary.
The Bill will now pass on to the House of Lords, where it is expected to face significant scrutiny and a multitude of further amendments, most of which are expected to attempt to ‘water it down’ further.
But the Prime Minister has also faced significant critique of the legislation from within his own party, with several notable figures expressing their opposition to the Bill in its current form and arguing for it to be tightened up further.
As many as 61 Conservative MPs are understood to have expressed major concerns about the Bill, arguing that it does not go far enough to eliminate the possiblity of legal challenges on the part of illegal migrants in the courts.
They backed an amendment proposed by former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick to allow the UK in domestic law to ignore injunctions imposed under the European Court of Human Rights’ Rule 39, but this amendment was voted down.
However, in the end, only 11 Tory MPs rebelled when the final vote on the Bill took place, following what is understood in Westminster to have been considerable efforts from Downing Street. These were:
- Suella Braverman
- Sir Bill Cash
- Miriam Cates
- Sir Simon Clarke
- Sarah Dines
- Sir James Duddridge
- Mark Francois
- Andrea Jenkyns
- Robert Jenrick
- David Jones
- Danny Kruger
Ms Jenkyns even appeared to call for the Prime Minister’s resignation over the matter, saying on X that her party needed “a new and true Conservative leader”:
It comes following the resignation of Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith as Deputy Party Chairmen owing to the proposed legislation yesterday. The two men claimed that the legislation still contained loopholes that would allow illegal migrants to successfully challenge their deportation orders in the courts.
The joint resignation letter from Mr Anderson and Mr Clarke-Smith can be read in full here, in which they cite their understanding of “collective responsibility” – hence their resignations – while reaffirming their intentions to seek to “strengthen the legislation” in the Commons:
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan condemned the passing of the legislation onto its next phase, saying: “The Rwanda policy has always been cruel, inhumane and unworkable, pursued by a weak government fixated on party interest rather than the national interest.”
Labour MP Jess Phillips said the Government had “absolutely no idea how much [the scheme] is going to cost”, while former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called the Bill “an appalling piece of legislation”, saying that it “blames people for being victims” and plays into a “racist trope”.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron described the Bill as “a costly, expensive failure” and urged the Commons to vote against it, but in vain.
And the co-chair of the New Conservatives group, Danny Kruger, told the House: “The Bill still allows lawyers to use international laws and protocols to override this Bill.”
But Home Secretary James Cleverly told MPs that the Bill, if passed into domestic law, would be “in complete compliance with international law”.
Mr Cleverly told the House: “This Bill sends an unambiguously clear message that, if you enter the United Kingdom illegally, you cannot stay.”
“This Bill has been meticulously drafted to end the merry-go-round of legal challenges,” he added.
However, the Bill itself states on its front page, in a quote from Mr Cleverly himself, that: “I am unable to make a statement that, in my view, the provisions of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill are compatible with the Convention rights, but the Government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed with the Bill.”
It is understood in Westminster that this statement was made based on advice from Mr Cleverly’s own government lawyers. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper also stated in the House that “this chaos leaves the Prime Minister’s authority in tatters”.
But former Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said she hoped the Bill would pass through the Commons with “as big a majority as possible”, adding that her constituents wanted to see a fair migration system.
Many eyes will be on the Prime Minister as one of his flagship policies passes through the Lords in the coming weeks. It remains to be seen how peers will now seek to amend the Bill.