Rwanda deportation bill passes as Tory rebellion collapses

Downing Street has avoided a humiliating defeat over the legislation.

The Rwanda Bill has passed through the House of Commons after a Tory rebellion over the policy collapsed, in a significant victory for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

MPs on the right of the party had sought compromises from Downing Street over the legislation, only to buckle when it came to the vote.

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Former immigration minister Robert Jenrick was pushing changes aimed at overriding the Human Rights Act and explicitly stating that emergency injunctions from European judges can be ignored.

Rishi Sunak during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Photo: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor /PA WireRishi Sunak during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Photo: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor /PA Wire
Rishi Sunak during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Photo: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor /PA Wire

However, Mr Sunak has now seen off the rebellion, with MPs voting 320 to 276 for the Safety of Rwanda Bill despite weeks of protests from Tory MPs.

More than 45 right-wing Tories, including former home secretary Suella Braverman and Mr Jenrick, had met in a Commons committee room for crunch talks, where a decision to support the government came after deciding the bill was a confidence vote.

Speaking on behalf of the rebels, a source said: “The majority of those people who spoke in the room have decided to back the Bill at third reading.

“A small number of colleagues will vote ‘No’ on a point of principle.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his former deputy party chair Lee Anderson.Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his former deputy party chair Lee Anderson.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his former deputy party chair Lee Anderson.

“But the overwhelming likelihood is that the Bill will pass probably quite comfortably this evening.”

The source, who railed against Downing Street’s handling of negotiations with the rebels over amendments to Mr Sunak’s flagship immigration policy, said some MPs in the room considered the third reading a confidence matter and that they wanted to support the Government.

The decision by rebels to fold will be welcome news to the Prime Minister, who had already faced a revolt by 60 of his MPs, and three resignations during Tuesday’s consideration of the Bill in the Commons.

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Senior red wall MPs Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith resigned from their party positions to vote in favour of amendments on Tuesday, while ministerial aide Jane Stevenson left her government job to back changes.

Mr Sunak, the Conservative Party leader, has made the Rwanda policy — first proposed in 2022 while Boris Johnson was in No 10 — central to his premiership, forming part of his pledge to stop small boats of migrants from coming to Britain via the English Channel.

He has been looking to tread a middle path with his Safety of Rwanda Bill, hoping to avoid a damaging rebellion on the right of the party while keeping liberal so-called One Nation Conservatives content that the legislation did not breach the UK’s international commitments on human rights.

No Conservatives voted against the Bill at second reading – despite similar warnings from the right of the party which had appeared to put it in jeopardy beforehand.

Urging unity in a message to Tory MPs on Wednesday, the Prime Minister’s press secretary said: “We are unified in our position in wanting to stop the boats, so we encourage them all to get behind this Bill so we can get this deterrent up and running as quickly as possible.”

Even if the Rwanda plan does successfully pass the Commons, it is expected to face serious opposition within the House of Lords, as well as legal battles.

It follows a late move by Downing Street to placate rebels, with the Government publishing guidance saying it was the “responsibility” of civil servants to “implement” a minister’s decision to ignore injunctions from Strasbourg blocking flights to Rwanda.

The move is aimed at assuring right-wing Tory MPs that the legislation does not do enough to block last-minute injunctions from the European Court of Human Rights. A late-night order by the Strasbourg court grounded the first flight planned to carry asylum seekers to Kigali in 2022.

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Civil service unions reacted with fury to the suggestion that officials could be asked to break international law.

Home Secretary James Cleverly told the Commons: “We will do whatever it takes to stop the boats. And we have, of course, been making progress on that pledge, reducing small boat arrivals by over a third last year.

“But to stop the boats completely, to stop them for good, we need to deter people from making these dangerous journeys.”

Danny Kruger, co-chairman of the New Conservatives coalition of Tory MPs, insisted the Bill will not work as currently drafted.

To laughter, he told the Commons: “The Government have done a brilliant job today, my congratulations to them, and I honour their efforts – they’ve been more successful than I’ve been today, but I’m very glad we’re all more or less united again as a party.”

Disagreements in the party saw one Conservative MP tell his colleagues they should “go and look for new jobs” if the Rwanda Bill fails.

Speaking in the Commons, Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) said: “We kill the Bill tonight, we can all go and look for new jobs, so that is what we are facing.”

Mr Seely told MPs that colleagues who believed a new Bill could be written up were living in “la la land”.

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He said: “On the WhatsApp group that we were chatting on about this earlier, one of our colleagues from the north east posted the idea that we could have a new Bill, that a new Bill would be written.

“I’m finding that to be truly living in la la land, because the idea that everybody on this side of the House would agree to a new Bill, once we’ve killed this Bill, is for the birds. It’s this Bill or no Bill, it’s this Bill or no chance – so I think we have to face the reality.”

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper claimed the Tory chaos had left the Prime Minister’s authority in “tatters”.

She said: “He’s in office but not in power. No one agrees with him on his policy. And the real weaknesses is that he doesn’t even agree with it himself.

“A Prime Minister who is so weak he has lost control of the asylum system, lost control of our borders and lost any control of the Tory party.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Tory party was “tearing itself apart, hundreds of bald men scrapping over a single broken comb”.

Illegal migration minister Michael Tomlinson had sought to play down the depth of Tory divisions in a message to party colleagues, saying: “We all want the same thing.”

“There are disagreements of emphasis. There’s an inch between us, there’s a determination to ensure that the policy works,” he told the BBC.

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Chancellor Jeremy Hunt told broadcasters the party was having a “lively debate” on the matter.

Earlier, No 10 was forced to deny it was seeking to “rewrite” the formal set of principles for civil servants, after illegal migration minister Michael Tomlinson said the Government was considering tweaking the code.

The proposal emerged after former home secretary Dame Priti Patel on Tuesday urged Mr Sunak to ensure “all potential roadblocks are removed, including the Civil Service blob”.

The senior Tory said the Prime Minister should make clear that the “Civil Service code cannot be used by officials to obstruct decisions”.



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