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U.K. Prime Minster Rishi Sunak is not backing down on his hardline approach in sending illegal immigrants to Rwanda, despite a rebellion by some of his Conservative lawmakers and warnings that his proposed policy could violate international law.
Sunak is trying to pass a bill into law that would give the government permission to send migrants who arrive without permission in Britain to Rwanda and he says he will ignore international law in order to see the migrants are deported.
The U.K. leader’s legislation, the “Safety of Rwanda Bill,” passed the lower House of Commons on Wednesday by 320 votes to 276, with 11 right-wing Conservatives rebelling.
Prime Minster Rishi Sunak says he will defy international law to see illegal immigrants deported after his Conservative Party passed an immigration bill. At right, migrants on a boat crossing the English Channel in August. (Stefan Rousseau – WPA Pool/Getty Images | Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
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The essence of the bill is to override a decision by the U.K. Supreme Court in November that declared the policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda unlawful.
Under the plan, migrants who arrive in Britain illegally face being sent to Rwanda, some 4,000 miles away, to have their asylum claims processed. The legislation declares Rwanda a safe country to deport asylum seekers.
The bill now passes to the unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords, where Sunak does not command an automatic majority. Many peers could oppose a bill that critics say might lead to Britain breaching international law.
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“The treaty with Rwanda is signed and the legislation which deems Rwanda a safe country has been passed unamended in our elected chamber,” Sunak said at a press briefing Thursday.
Sunak, who took office in late 2022, has promised to slash the number of illegal immigrants entering the country, including stopping people making the dangerous journey of about 20 miles across the English Channel from France in small boats. The U.K. government says it has detected at least 110,000 illegal immigrants crossing the channel in boats since 2018, with migrants mostly arriving from Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey.
The U.K. government says it has detected at least 110,000 illegal immigrants crossing the English Channel in boats since 2018, with migrants mostly arriving from Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey. (Luke Dray/Getty Images)
Sunak’s push to clamp down on illegal immigration has been dubbed “stop the boats.”
The first planned flight to take migrants to Rwanda was blocked when the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued “interim measures” under its Rule 39 provision – effectively granting a temporary emergency injunction. The orders are issued on an exceptional basis when applicants would “otherwise face a real risk of serious and irreversible harm” and have been used to stop asylum seekers from being deported.
“I’ve been crystal clear repeatedly that I won’t let a foreign court stop us from getting flights off and getting this deterrent up and running,” Sunak said, according to Sky News.
“The bill specifically contains a power that makes clear that ministers are the ones that make these decisions. Parliament has supported that.”
“[The bill also] makes it perfectly clear that the domestic courts should respect that decision. I would not have put that clause in the bill if I was not prepared to use it. So, look, if you’re asking me are there circumstances in which I will ignore rule 39, then the answer is clearly yes.”
A group migrants is brought in to Dungeness, Kent, England, by an RNLI lifeboat. The Conservative Party passed a bill that would see asylum seekers deported to Rwanda if they arrive in the country illegally. (Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
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Sunak has said previously he wants the first flights to take off in the spring.
Around 60 Tory MPs defied the government by voting for amendments to beef up the law – including proposals to limit appeals and stop interventions against deportation flights from international courts, but none of the amendments were approved, Sky News reported.
“There is now only one question,” Sunak said.
“Will the opposition in the appointed House of Lords try and frustrate the will of the people as expressed by the elected House? Or will they get on board and do the right thing?”
Reuters contributed to this report.
Michael Dorgan is a writer for Fox News Digital and Fox Business.
You can send tips to [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @M_Dorgan.