The French lower house of parliament on Monday adopted a motion to reject a highly controversial immigration bill, dealing a major blow to the government of President Emmanuel Macron.
Originally proposed by Macron’s centrist government with a mix of steps to expel more undocumented people and improve integration, the text now leans firmly towards enforcement after its passage through the Senate, which is controlled by the right.
Speaking at the National Assembly, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin on Monday defended the bill, which further restricts the ability for migrants to bring family members into France, birthright citizenship and welfare benefits.
He urged lawmakers not to join forces to vote on the rejection motion put forward by the Greens.
“Refusing to debate” the draft law means “refusing to debate issues of interest to the French”, Darmanin said.
Despite his pleas, the National Assembly backed the motion to reject the immigration bill by 270 votes to 265.
The move means the interruption of the examination of the legislation’s roughly 2,600 proposed amendments.
The text of the bill could now be sent back to the Senate, or the government could decide to withdraw the text.
Far-right figurehead Marine Le Pen said she was “delighted” with the result, saying it had “protected the French from a migratory tidal wave”.
Left-wing lawmakers urged Darmanin’s resignation.
“It feels like the end of the road for his law and therefore for him,” French hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon said on X (formerly Twitter).
On Sunday, Macron said that forgetting about the right of asylum would be a mistake as he spoke during a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“France retains its long tradition of providing asylum for all those whose rights are threatened in their own country, and we will continue to defend this right of asylum,” he said.
“To think that we can solve our contemporary problems by forgetting these rights, which are the very foundation of our republic in France, but also of the very identity of our Europe, would be not just a political mistake, but a moral one,” he said.
– ‘Bill of shame’ –
The bill aims to speed up asylum application procedures and regularise the status of undocumented workers in sectors with labour shortages, but also to facilitate the expulsion of foreigners deemed dangerous.
It would introduce an annual quota for the number of migrant arrivals to be set by parliament, and remove all but emergency medical coverage for undocumented people.
Earlier in the day around 200 people including undocumented workers demonstrated outside the Palais Bourbon in Paris, which houses the National Assembly.
“We have gathered to denounce this bill of shame, which calls into question the fundamental principles of our republic,” Sophie Binet, head of the hard-left CGT union, said at the rally.
She also denounced the “hypocrisy” of regularisations, saying “France could not function without undocumented workers in kitchens, cleaning and construction”.
The passage of the bill is far from assured in the lower house, where no side has a majority.
It is unlikely to pass in any form without support from the conservative Republicans (LR) in the National Assembly.
This has intensified speculation that the government could once again opt to trigger article 49.3 of the constitution, which allows it to pass legislation without a vote, as it did with contentious pension reforms earlier this year.
But the government wants to avoid wielding this widely unpopular constitutional hammer, which can also trigger a no-confidence vote.