British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Thursday appealed to his Conservative Party MPs to unite behind his plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Sunak faces the biggest hurdle of his one-year term as he tries to fend off the party’s far-right MPs rebelling against demands that the UK abandon international agreements to set its own migration policy.
The immigration minister resigned on Wednesday, and faces doubts over whether he can get the policy to a vote in parliament. Some Conservative MPs said on Thursday that Sunak could face a leadership challenge as the party is lagging far behind in opinion polls ahead of next year’s election.
At a Downing Street press conference, Sunak said the law had met with criticism from all his peers, but if the government went further in violating human rights law, Rwanda would abandon the deal.
“This is the only approach because if we go further, the difference is one centimeter, but if we go further, Rwanda will end the project and there will be no place to send anyone,” he said.
“What everyone needs to do is support this bill.”
While Sunak said he wanted to end the legal battle over the policy, experts said he could face further legal challenges, casting doubt on his intention to start flights next year, two years after the policy was first announced.
The bill comes three weeks after the UK Supreme Court ruled that Rwanda was not a safe place to send migrants arriving in small boats from the UK’s south coast, and that the plan was in breach of British and international law.
Rwanda’s plan is at the heart of the government’s strategy to end illegal immigration. The court ruling is a major setback for Sunak, which is struggling to revive a weak economy and is lagging far behind the main opposition Labor Party in opinion polls.
Sunak will now try to get the legislation through parliament, but has said he will not turn it into a vote of confidence in his government in an effort to shore up the party’s support. A failure in the confidence vote will trigger a national election.
The bill was introduced in the House of Commons on Thursday, and a first vote on the legislation is expected on December 12.
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