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Sunak's Rwanda deportation bill to become law after long fight

Ellen Milligan and Alex Wickham, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

LONDON — Rishi Sunak’s government is preparing to get the first deportation flights to Rwanda off the ground by July after the U.K. prime minister’s flagship law to declare the African nation a “safe” destination for asylum seekers cleared its final hurdle in Parliament.

Following weeks of legislative “ping-pong” between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the unelected upper chamber dropped its opposition to the government’s plan, allowing it to become law. The measure, introduced last year to circumvent a U.K. Supreme Court ruling that blocked deportations on human rights grounds, passed after the Lords dropped its amendment to include extra procedures before Rwanda can be deemed “safe.”

Peers also accepted assurances from the government over allowing exemptions for those that have supported the British military abroad, such as in Afghanistan.

The first flights will take place in 10 to 12 weeks, Sunak said Monday in a news conference, conceding he’ll fail to deliver on a longstanding pledge to get them off the ground by the spring. “Enough is enough. No more prevarication. No more delay. No ifs, no buts. These flights are going to Rwanda,” he said.

Sunak’s aides see the policy — first announced two years ago under former premier Boris Johnson — as a potential electoral game-changer, showing he is delivering on a promise to “stop the boats” bringing migrants across the English Channel, one of five core pledges he made to voters in January 2023.

The urgency to act is clear for the government: the number of migrants reaching the U.K. by boat hit a record in the first three months of the year, undercutting Sunak’s promise.

With the Tories worried about shedding votes to the Reform U.K. party founded by former Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, aides see the deportations as a way to claw back votes from the right-wing insurgent party, and eat into the opposition Labour Party’s 20-point lead in national polls.

The time-line announced by Sunak raised speculation in Westminster that he is considering holding the general election in July. Having the vote soon after the first flights take off could give the governing party some momentum during a summer campaign, one Tory official said. Sunak on Monday reiterated that he expects to call the election in the “second half” of the year. He has to hold one by the end of January at the latest.


Yet uncertainty hangs over Downing Street’s expectations that getting the Rwanda program up and running will ease the pressure on Sunak and make a difference to the polls.

The government is already preparing for last-minute legal challenges. Sunak said Monday that extra court rooms and judicial time have been reserved in case of last-ditch legal challenges to the policy, while commercial planes have been chartered and 500 escorts have been trained.

Even if flights do get off the ground, there are questions about whether they’ll prove enough of a deterrent for the boat crossings and whether Rwanda has enough capacity to process more than a few hundred migrants a year.

But along with the economy, small boats have become the defining policy issue for Sunak as he seeks to present a tough stance and shore up his Conservative base ahead of the general election.

“We will start the flights and stop the boats,” he said Monday.


(With assistance from Kitty Donaldson and Joe Mayes.)

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