British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was met with opposition from discontented legislators regarding his prominent immigration strategy, while also defending himself against challenging inquiries on Monday regarding his decision-making during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Sunak faces a challenging week as he must navigate two competing pressures that could have significant implications for his current position and past accomplishments.
A vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday will determine the fate of a legislation proposed to rescue Sunak’s proposal of relocating asylum-seekers to Rwanda. As Conservative lawmakers gathered in Parliament to voice their criticisms of the bill, Sunak was being questioned for six hours in the U.K.’s pandemic inquiry. He refuted claims of jeopardizing public health.
Sunak served as the Chancellor of the Exchequer under Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the onset of the pandemic. He supported a program that offered discounts to incentivize people to dine out in August 2020, following months of lockdown.
The scientific advisors of the government have stated to the independent investigation that they were not given prior notice about the “Eat Out to Help Out” initiative. This program has been connected by scientists to an increase in infections. A high-ranking government science advisor referred to Sunak as “Dr. Death” in a message to colleagues during that time.
Sunak rejected the notion that there was a conflict between prioritizing public health and economic concerns in addressing the pandemic, despite reports of over 230,000 deaths in the U.K.
According to him, his responsibility was to ensure that the prime minister received top-notch guidance, data, and evaluation regarding the potential effects of proposed actions on the economy. He emphasized that, as the prime minister at the time, Johnson held all decision-making power.
During the investigation last week, Johnson denied claims that he had wanted to allow the virus to spread unchecked throughout society.
In June 2020, Sunak stated that he did not receive a warning from government scientific advisors regarding the potential dangers of reopening society. He justified his choice to not seek advice from scientists about the “Eat Out to Help Out” initiative, stating that the government had already agreed to resume indoor hospitality. He also mentioned that the policy had aided in protecting the jobs of underpaid individuals working in bars and restaurants.
Sunak started his statement by expressing regret to those who were affected by the pandemic and emphasized the need to “understand the takeaways so that we can improve our readiness for the future.”
Unfortunately, his proof did not contain his WhatsApp conversations from that period. Sunak stated that they were lost due to multiple phone upgrades since then.
Johnson has not been able to access messages from important months in 2020 because they are stored on an old phone for which he cannot remember the password, and attempts by tech experts to retrieve them have been unsuccessful.
Naomi Fulop, a member of COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, stated that Sunak’s testimony indicated he posed a threat to public health.
Fulop stated that Sunak repeatedly stated that he could not remember important events during his tenure as chancellor. However, the public does remember.
Sunak is currently working to protect the Rwanda proposal, which is a crucial aspect of his commitment to prevent undocumented migrants from attempting to cross from France to England in small boats. The number of individuals who have done so this year has exceeded 29,000, a decrease from the total of 46,000 in 2022.
The government has spent 240 million pounds ($300 million) in payments to Rwanda as part of a plan to process and resettle asylum-seekers from the U.K. However, no one has been relocated to Rwanda yet, and the Supreme Court deemed the plan illegal last month, stating that Rwanda is not a safe place for refugees.
Britain and Rwanda signed a pact to enhance safeguards for migrants after the Supreme Court ruling. Sunak’s administration contends that the pact permits them to enact legislation designating Rwanda as a secure destination.
If passed by Parliament, the legislation would give the government the power to disregard certain aspects of British human rights law specifically in regards to asylum requests involving Rwanda.
Some moderate Conservative members have expressed concerns about the bill’s disregard for the judicial system, but a significant moderate faction, known as the One Nation group, announced on Monday that they will back the bill.
However, lawmakers within the more authoritarian faction of the party believe that the legislation is not strict enough as it still allows migrants some legal avenues to contest deportation, such as through the European Court of Human Rights.
The uncompromising European Research Group composed of Conservative legislators stated that the bill only offers a limited and insufficient resolution and requires significant modifications. Member Mark Francois urged Sunak to revise the bill before it is brought to a vote, but did not specify if he would oppose it if changes were not made.
If the bill is approved during the vote on Tuesday, there will be weeks of negotiations and additional votes in Parliament. If it fails, the Rwanda plan will be in ruins and Sunak’s position as leader will be at risk.
Sunak is confident that fulfilling his pledge to “halt the arrival of refugees by sea” will help the Conservative Party narrow the significant lead held by the opposing Labour Party in opinion polls before the upcoming election, which is required to take place within the next year.
However, certain members of the Conservative party believe that he is destined to be unsuccessful and are considering replacing their leader. According to party regulations, Sunak will be subject to a vote of no confidence if 53 lawmakers, which makes up 15% of the Conservative total, request it.
Some individuals contend that it would be catastrophic to oust another prime minister without holding a nationwide election. Sunak is the third member of the Conservative party to serve as prime minister since the 2019 election, following the removal of both Johnson and his successor, Liz Truss.
Conservative member of parliament Damian Green, who is known for his moderate views, stated that those seeking to replace the party leader are either insane, spiteful, or both.