A backbench Conservative MP has failed in an attempt to override international human rights rulings and get the Rwanda deportation scheme up and running again.
Jonathan Gullis was said to have the backing of former prime minister Boris Johnson and former home secretary Priti Patel – but the bill he proposed was voted down by 188 votes to 69.
The plan to send people to Rwanda to have their asylum claims processed was announced during the Johnson administration in April, with Ms Patel spearheading the policy.
Although the government has paid Rwanda £140m, no flights have taken off yet due to a series of legal challenges over the summer.
The first flight in June was grounded at the 11th hour by a legal challenge from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which is currently being considered.
Mr Gullis had attempted to introduce a bill to parliament which would have ignored the Strasbourg Court and allowed the flights to restart immediately.
Other senior Tories said to be in favour of the legislation included former cabinet ministers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries – but they did not vote today, and neither did Mr Johnson.
Mr Gullis said he wanted “parliament, not unaccountable foreign judges in Europe” to have the final say on the Rwanda scheme.
Bill ‘offensive and dangerous’
But SNP’s Alison Thewliss called his Asylum Seekers (Removal to Safe Countries) Bill “offensive, grubby and dangerous” as she tore into the Conservatives’ rhetoric on immigration.
The MP for Glasgow Central pointed to the deaths of four migrants in the Channel today and said if Mr Gullis had “any sense of compassion” he would have withdrawn the bill
“He should be ashamed of himself,” she told the Commons.
“No one is illegal, but this bill just might be.”
Labour’s Andy McDonald also criticised the bill, tweeting: “I’m pleased we defeated Jonathan Gullis’s fascistic bill that would’ve allowed ministers to disregard international law over their Rwanda scheme.
“As we mourn the tragedy of those who died in the Channel last night, this is a small victory in the struggle for a more caring world.”
A search and rescue operation is ongoing after a migrant boat got into difficulty in the Channel this morning.
More than 40 people have been rescued while four are confirmed dead.
The tragedy has led to criticism of the government’s “hostile” immigration policies, which Refugee Action say are “designed to keep people out and not keep people safe”.
Government ‘playing to the right of the party’
Sir Roger Gale, Conservative MP for North Thanet in Kent, told Sky News his party was “playing to the right-wing gallery” with some of its measures.
Mr Sunak has vowed to crack down on immigration, and on Tuesday unveiled a raft of laws aimed at stopping people crossing the Channel.
He said this would include restarting the Rwanda deportations, which has been widely criticised by opposition parties, charities and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
A decision is due imminently on whether the government’s plan to send migrants to the east African nation is lawful.
The Home Office argues the scheme will help break the business model of people smugglers facilitating what they call illegal immigration, but critics have raised concerns about human rights abuses in Rwanda and say there is no evidence it will act as a deterrent.
More than 40,000 migrants have crossed the Channel this year – a huge increase on 2021, when it was fewer than 29,000.