Rishi Sunak wins Rwanda bill vote after facing down rebels

LONDON — Rishi Sunak’s controversial Rwanda deportation bill survived a crucial House of Commons vote Wednesday after the U.K. prime minister faced down a rebellion from MPs on the right of his party. 

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill passed its third reading Wednesday evening with 320 MPs voting in support, and 276 voting against, giving the government a comfortable majority of 44. Only 11 Conservative MPs voted against the bill, including former Home Secretary Suella Braverman and former immigration minister Robert Jenrick.

With an election expected this fall, the British prime minister has staked his reputation on a pledge to stop boats carrying undocumented migrants from crossing the English Channel, arguing the Rwanda deportation scheme will deter asylum seekers from making the dangerous journey.  

But Sunak’s victory came after a bruising round of open Conservative Party warfare. Sunak suffered the biggest rebellion of his premiership on Tuesday night when 60 Conservative MPs voted for an amendment proposed by the veteran Brexiteer Bill Cash to toughen up the bill.

Efforts to change the bill failed without the support of opposition MPs, but Sunak’s authority was dealt a major blow when his party chairmen Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith, and junior government aide Jane Stevenson, resigned to back the rebels.

Sunak introduced the bill in November after the Supreme Court ruled that his plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing was illegal. The draft legislation has since turned into a party management headache for the U.K. prime minister who is balancing the concerns of moderate Conservative MPs who believe the legislation tests international law, while MPs on the right are urging him to go further in legislating to stop either U.K. or international courts from preventing or delaying deportations.

The bill will now face the scrutiny of members of the House of Lords. Last year’s Illegal Migration Act faced a strong challenge from peers pushing to add modern slavery protections into the legislation.

Facing the prime minister at PMQs earlier on Wednesday, Labour leader Keir Starmer described the Rwanda plan as a “farce,” adding: “This is the government that spent £400 million pounds of taxpayers’ money on a Rwanda scheme, yet can’t deport a single person.”

This story has been updated with more voting details.

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