British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government has made concessions on Monday to members of the upper house of parliament, following a series of defeats on highly contentious legislation aimed at facilitating the deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Under a preliminary deal worth £140 million ($180 million) reached last year, the British government planned to transfer tens of thousands of asylum seekers, who arrive on its shores, to the East African country—a distance of over 4,000 miles (6,400 km). This plan has already faced prolonged legal challenges and has been criticized by some opposition politicians as inhumane and cruel.
The concessions made by the government do not alter the fundamental objective of the legislation, which is to prevent unauthorized individuals arriving in Britain from claiming asylum and to deport them either to their country of origin or a designated safe country like Rwanda. Last week, the House of Lords, the unelected upper chamber of parliament, approved 20 amendments aimed at diluting the government’s legislation.
The bill will now return to the House of Commons on Tuesday, where members of parliament will engage in debates and have the opportunity to accept or reject the amendments before sending the legislation back to the upper house.
One of the british government’s amendments entails limiting the detention of unaccompanied children to eight days, instead of the previously proposed 28 days. Another amendment specifies that pregnant women can only be detained for three days, though this duration can be extended to seven days with ministerial permission. Furthermore, an additional amendment would mean that the home secretary’s obligation, under the legislation, to deport individuals who arrived through irregular means would no longer apply retroactively from the legislation’s initial publication in early March. However, such individuals would still be ineligible for settlement.
The first planned deportation flight to Rwanda was blocked a year ago due to a last-minute ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, which issued an injunction preventing any deportations until legal proceedings in Britain concluded. The british government is currently appealing a ruling by the Court of Appeal last month that deemed the deportation plan unlawful.
Sunak has made “stop the boats” one of his top five priorities and hopes that a decline in arrivals may boost his Conservative Party’s chances in the next national election, as they are currently trailing by approximately 20 points in opinion polls. Last year, a record-breaking 45,755 individuals arrived in Britain via small boats across the Channel, primarily from France. This year, over 12,000 arrivals have already been recorded, indicating a similar rate to the previous year.