British PM Sunak faces major rebellion over Rwanda legislation

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing a major rebellion from right-wing politicians in his party on Tuesday over flagship immigration legislation to speed up the deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda in a critical test of his authority.

Publication: 16.01.2024 - 15:42
British PM Sunak faces major rebellion over Rwanda legislation
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Two Conservative Party chairmen said they were ready to defy Sunak to join the rebellion by voting to toughen the legislation before parliamentary votes on the plan on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sunak's party is deeply divided over the bill, which aims to block asylum seekers bringing further court challenges against their deportations. Some Conservative lawmakers say it goes too far and others that it does not go far enough.

Unless the legislation is changed, some Conservatives are threatening to vote against the government at its final parliamentary stage in the House of Commons, the lower house of parliament, which could take place on Wednesday evening.

One senior lawmaker said the rebels had the numbers to defeat Sunak in the final vote.

"There is zero purpose in putting in place a piece of legislation that doesn’t work," he said, adding that the rebels only needed half of those who backed the amendments to defeat against the government in the final vote.

Sunak has made stopping the arrival of asylum seekers crossing from France to Britain on small boats a central aim of his government.

Most of those arriving in the boats say they are fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. But the British government says about 90% making the journey are men and many of them economic migrants rather than genuine refugees.


Sunak faced the most serious threat to his leadership last month when he saw off a threatened revolt by dozens of his lawmakers at the first parliamentary vote on the draft legislation.

The government comfortably won that vote after some lawmakers decided to abstain rather than rebel, but some warned that they could vote down the legislation at later stages of the parliamentary process unless the bill was changed.

More than 60 Conservative members of parliament are planning to back the amendments that would allow ministers to ignore last-minute rulings from judges at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg seeking to ground flights to Rwanda.

A similar number also support another amendment that would stop asylum seekers from bringing individual claims to prevent their removal to the East African nation.

Isaac Levido, the Conservative Party's election strategist, told lawmakers at a closed-doors meeting late on Monday that the party faced defeat at this year's national election unless they ended their infighting.

"Let me clear. Divided parties fail," Levido said, according to a Conservative official.

Conservative Party Deputy Chairmen Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith said they would vote to toughen the legislation.

Asked if this means he would be sacked, Brendan Clarke-Smith said: "It is not for me to decide."

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