British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has taken a crucial step for his political survival. After two days of high tension at the Palace of Westminster with heated debates, negotiations behind closed doors and resounding resignations, the deputies finally adopted, Wednesday January 17 evening, the controversial bill on the expulsion of migrants to Rwanda.

With the return to the ranks of dissidents, the text was approved on third reading in the House of Commons with 320 votes for and 276 against. Well ahead in the polls by Labor at the start of the electoral year, Rishi Sunak put all his weight into the balance to bring about this project supposed to show his firmness on a major concern of his base but which will have exposed the divisions sharply of its majority, the moderates fearing an attack on international law and the most right-wing wanting to go further.

This text aims to respond to the objections of the British Supreme Court, which judged the project illegal in its previous version out of fear in particular for the safety of asylum seekers sent to Rwanda. According to the project, the latter, wherever they come from, would have their file examined in Rwanda and would then under no circumstances be able to return to the United Kingdom, being able to obtain asylum only in the African country if successful.

Resignation of two vice-presidents of the conservative party

During its examination, dozens of conservative deputies supported, in vain, amendments aimed at toughening the text, in particular attempting to limit the right of migrants to appeal their expulsion. Tension also rose a notch after the resignation on Tuesday of two vice-presidents of the Conservative Party, supporters of a harder line, who received the support of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Announced in April 2022 by the latter, this project aimed to discourage the influx of migrants in small boats across the Channel: almost 30,000 last year after a peak of 45,000 in 2022.

This weekend, five migrants died while trying to reach a boat at sea in freezing water. On Wednesday morning, other boats were seen attempting this perilous crossing, noted a photographer from Agence France-Presse.

But the text has so far never been implemented. A first plane was blocked at the last minute by a decision of the European courts, then the British courts had, up to the Supreme Court, declared the project illegal in its initial version.

New treaty with Rwanda

To try to save its text, strongly criticized by humanitarian associations, the government signed a new treaty with Rwanda. It is backed by this new bill which defines Rwanda as a safe third country and prevents the return of migrants to their countries of origin. He also proposes not to apply certain provisions of British human rights law to evictions, to limit legal recourse. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Wednesday that the latest version of the draft was “not compatible” with international law.

A little over a year after entering Downing Street, Rishi Sunak is counting on the success of this project to show that he is capable of keeping one of his flagship promises: that of putting an end to the arrival of migrant boats on British coasts.

His bill will now have to be approved by the unelected members of the House of Lords, who could well amend it. And if it is adopted in time before the legislative elections, scheduled for the fall, Labor, led by Keir Starmer, has promised to repeal it if it comes to power after fourteen years in opposition.

Too much tightening could also weaken the partnership with Rwanda, which has already received nearly 240 million pounds (280 million euros) from the United Kingdom. “This money will only be used if the [migrants] come. If this is not the case, we can return it,” assured Rwandan President Paul Kagame, interviewed Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos (Switzerland).