Sunak Eyes Rwanda Vote and Europe Trip to Lift Election Hope

(Bloomberg) -- Rishi Sunak will have lawmakers sit late Monday as he seeks to push a bill through Parliament that enables his flagship migration policy, before embarking on a European tour focused on defense policy, as the UK prime minister seeks to regain momentum 10 days from a crucial set of local elections.

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Sunak will hold a press conference on Monday to make the case for his plan to pass a law that declares Rwanda a “safe” country for deportees, finally allowing him to fly asylum seekers to the East African nation. Whether the policy succeeds is a key test of his premiership after he pledged to stop boats carrying migrants from crossing the English channel.

The bill, which seeks to circumvent a Supreme Court ruling last year that the deportations were unlawful on human right grounds, has been stuck in a Parliamentary process known as ping pong for weeks as the House of Lords and the Commons disagree on its content.

“It’s time that the Lords accepts the will of the elected House,” Deputy Foreign Secretary Andrew Mitchell said on LBC radio on Monday. “People want to see the issue of these illegal crossings tackled.”

Sunak will urge peers and Members of Parliament to vote through the legislation, warning last week that he would make them sit as long as it takes on Monday night to pass the bill. The prime minister is trying to regain control of the news agenda in Westminster after a turbulent time for the governing Conservatives: another of its lawmakers, Mark Menzies, announced he was standing down at the election following misconduct allegations on Sunday.

Even if Sunak successfully passes the bill, his Tory colleagues fret there will be further dangers ahead, as the focus would then turn to whether the first deportation flights can leave. Downing Street aides hope the first flights can take place in May, but the timing and even the ability of the government to carry out the flights are far from certain. Ministers have repeatedly said sending migrants to Rwanda will deter them from making the crossing in small boats from France to Britain’s southern shores.

If deportations are blocked by fresh legal challenges, then the law may be seen as having failed and Sunak’s chances of sending migrants to Rwanda before the election may be over. If they begin in small numbers yet Channel crossings continue to surge, it would suggest the policy isn’t the deterrent Sunak promised, emboldening right-wing party members who want to oust him.

Read more: Sunak Enters Rwanda Endgame With UK Tories Fearing New Failures

On Tuesday, Sunak will head to Europe on a 48-hour visit where he’s expected to make announcements on defense policy. That’s an area of increasing interest to Tory Members of Parliament, some of whom have been calling for an increase in defense spending in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine. More details of the trip are expected to be made public later on Monday.

The focus on migration and defense comes ahead of local elections on May 2, in which the Conservatives are expected to suffer heavy losses. Keir Starmer’s opposition Labour Party currently leads opinion polls by around 20 points and is on course to win power at a general election that must be held by the end of January.

Sunak’s internal critics have threatened to challenge his position as leader if the local election results suggest the party is on course for a wipe-out at the general election. That underscores the premier’s need to set out his stall in the days before the May vote.

--With assistance from Joe Mayes.

(Updates with press conference starting in second paragraph.)

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