British PM Rishi Sunak defiant after winning crunch vote amid Opposition attacks

British people should decide who gets to come to this country, not criminal gangs or foreign courts, says PM

Rishi Sunak has saved the day... for now (photo: National Herald archives)
Rishi Sunak has saved the day... for now (photo: National Herald archives)


British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak presented a defiant front in Parliament on Wednesday after winning a crunch vote on the controversial Rwanda Safety Bill, even as the Opposition accused his government of being in "meltdown".

Addressing the last prime minister's questions (PMQs) session in the House of Commons before the Christmas recess, Sunak claimed that while the Conservatives remained focused on cracking down on illegal migration, the Labour Party was distracted by political "tittle tattle", alluding to reports of divisions within the Tory ranks.

"The British people should decide who gets to come to this country, not criminal gangs or foreign courts. That's what this bill delivers. We will now work to make it law so that we can get flights going to Rwanda and stop the boats," said Sunak.

Labour leader Keir Starmer accused the British-Indian leader of "kicking the can down the road" after his Rwanda bill passed 313 to 269, with a majority of 44 votes, on Tuesday night in its first parliamentary stage.

But with around 38 Conservative MPs recorded as not taking part in the vote, it is widely expected that the controversial Rwanda bill aimed at deporting illegal migrants to the east African nation while asylum claims are processed will reignite the deep Tory divisions over the issue as it progresses through further stages in the New Year.

"He can spin it all he likes but the whole country can see that yet again, the Tory party is in meltdown and everyone else is paying the price. He has kicked the can down the road but in the last week, his MPs have said of him he is not capable enough, he is inexperienced, he is arrogant, a really bad politician," said Starmer.

Faced with one of his toughest challenges since taking charge as PM last year, Sunak had launched a wide-ranging charm offensive at 10 Downing Street in a bid to win over MPs from within his Conservative Party threatening to rebel against the Rwanda bill.

Ahead of the early-stage vote on the bill on Tuesday night, he hosted a breakfast summit for the Tory rebels on the extreme right of the party, who are opposed to the bill because they feel it is not strong enough to circumvent legal challenges.

However, more centrist Tories are against the "toughest anti-immigration law ever" being toughened further to threaten the UK's human rights obligations. With the Opposition parties voting against it, Tory rebels either voting against or abstaining in Tuesday night's vote to defeat the bill was seen as a test of Sunak's authority within his own party.

Sunak's breakfast charm offensive ahead of a weekly Cabinet meeting proved enough for the moment to ensure he didn't become the first UK PM in nearly 40 years to face a defeat on a vote at such an early stage of a government bill.

But this was just the first parliamentary test for the Safety of Rwanda Bill, referred to as the second reading in the Commons, giving MPs a chance to debate and vote on its main principles before any amendments. It will now progress through further stages in January, when the chances of another Tory rebellion cannot be ruled out.

The government says the aim of the policy is to deter migrants from crossing the English Channel and it is central to the plan to "stop the boats", one of Sunak's top priorities ahead of a general election year in 2024.

Under the plan, the UK plans to deport illegal migrants to Rwanda while their asylum claims are processed and hopes it will act as a deterrent for people smugglers bringing migrants illegally to UK shores. The new law is intended to deal with the UK Supreme Court having ruled the policy unlawful last month.

The Opposition Labour Party has accused the Tories of infighting rather than coming up with workable solutions on the issue of illegal migration.

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