Rwanda vote: Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson resigns as Rishi Sunak fights to quell Tory revolt over Rwanda plan

Rishi Sunak still aims to have flights running to Rwanda by the spring, Downing Street has said

Outspoken Conservative MP Lee Anderson has resigned as the party’s deputy chairman after backing amendments that seek to beef up Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda Bill, as a host of senior Conservatives warned the legislation does not go far enough.

It comes as Rishi Sunak was dealt a fresh blow to his authority as 68 MPs, many likely to be from within his own party, voted in favour of changes to the Bill put forward by Conservative backbencher Bill Cash.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

More than 60 right-wing MPs were backing an amendment to the Rwanda Bill, which restricts individuals’ ability to challenge being sent to the African nation and overriding international law.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is fighting to save his Rwanda bill.Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is fighting to save his Rwanda bill.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is fighting to save his Rwanda bill.

These included Mr Anderson and fellow Tory deputy chairman Brendan Clarke-Smith, who resigned after defying Mr Sunak to vote for an amendment led by Robert Jenrick, who quit as immigration minister over the Prime Minister’s approach.

The amendment was also supported by former prime minister Liz Truss and ex-home secretary Suella Braverman.

In a joint letter, the two outgoing deputy chairmen told the Prime Minister it was “important in terms of credibility that we are consistent” on arguing that safeguards must be put in place to ensure the Government’s flagship asylum policy was legally watertight.

Mr Anderson and Mr Clarke-Smith said “whilst our main wish is to strengthen the legislation, this means that in order to vote for amendments we will therefore need to offer you our resignations from our roles”.

They backed the legislative changes “not because we are against the legislation, but because like everybody else we want it to work”, they said.

A Downing Street source said: “The PM accepts their resignation and thanks both Lee and Brendan for their dedication and hard work for the Conservative Party.

“This is the toughest legislation ever brought before Parliament to tackle illegal migration. This Bill will make it clear that if you come here illegally, you will not be able to stay. We must pass this Bill to deliver what all Conservatives want – a credible plan to stop the boats.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The amendment seeking to ensure UK and international law cannot be used to block a person being removed to Rwanda was rejected by a majority of 461, but the rebellion gives an indication of the scale of unease within the Conservative Party during an election year.

Around 40 Tory backbenchers, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, Simon Clarke and former leader Iain Duncan Smith, had earlier met to agree backing the changes.

The Liberal Democrats said the Prime Minister has “again been embarrassed by his own MPs”. The party’s home affairs spokesperson, Scottish MP Alistair Carmichael, said: “If the Prime Minister can’t even settle squabbles in his own party, how can he be expected to run the country?”

The interventions came on a day that saw Downing Street promised to draft in judges to speed up migrant appeals, with a view to having flights running by the spring.

In a sign of the scale of the Tory civil war tearing through the party, former prime minister Boris Johnson also intervened, urging his former colleagues to back the amendment.

However, if Mr Sunak were to fold to the rebels, the Bill would be collapsed by the more moderate Tories who want to comply with international law. Last week ministers flooded a meeting of the One Nation group, party moderates, in a clear charm offensive to garner support for the legislation.

This all comes in the backdrop of the United Nations high commissioner for refugees saying that, even unamended, the Bill and recently signed treaty with Kigali would still violate global refugee law.

In the Commons, Mr Jenrick said the amendments from the Tory right tabled by him and Mr Cash “represent the last opportunity for us to get this policy right”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He said that without changes, the “legally flawed” Bill still left loopholes open, which would allow migrants to claim Rwanda was not safe for them as an individual.

“As night follows day, every migrant will say Rwanda may be generally safe – and I believe it is – but it is not safe for me,” Mr Jenrick said. “That is one of the central intellectual incoherences, as the Government’s own lawyers have said, at the heart of this Bill.”

Under the Government’s plan, migrants who cross the English Channel on small boats could be sent on a one-way trip to Rwanda rather than being allowed to try to seek asylum in the UK.

The legislation and the treaty are intended to make the Government’s plan legally watertight following a Supreme Court ruling against it last year.

Shadow Home Office minister Stephen Kinnock said in the lead-up to votes: “We on these benches will be proudly voting against the amendments that are being promoted by the benches opposite because the Government’s Rwanda policy is unaffordable, unworkable and unlawful, because this Bill is an affront to the values that we hold dear and because we will always stand up for the separation of powers, for the rule of law and for ensuring we can stand tall in the world.

“The legislation before us is a sham, but in the interests of damage limitation I urge members to get behind Labour’s amendments today.”

Even with Conservative MPs rebelling to back amendments, Mr Sunak was understood to still be confident that Tories would eventually get behind the Bill as a whole at its final Commons hurdle – the third reading – which is due on Wednesday.

Miriam Cates, a prominent right-wing MP, had appeared unmoved by the Prime Minister’s latest plan.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Well, I’m afraid all that shows is that the Government is expecting a large number of individual claims.”

Touring broadcast studios on Tuesday, Cabinet ministers Michael Gove and Mel Stride sought to play down Tory divisions. Levelling up secretary Mr Gove said he was “pretty sure” Mr Anderson would still be in post at the next election.

“I think we might be getting ahead of ourselves because I think that, and Lee is a friend and I’m a big admirer of his, the concerns that Lee has about the Bill are the concerns that the country has about migration more broadly,” he told Times Radio.

Work and pensions secretary Mr Stride declined to be drawn on the fate of the Tory deputy chairmen, telling LBC: “We all know that there are very few Bills – very, very few Bills – that go through straight and clean and nobody tries to amend them in any way at all.

“What matters is that the Bill progresses in a form that leaves it effective at the end and I’m confident we’re going to do that.”

The Government has announced plans to draft in around 150 judges and free up courtrooms to deal with migrant appeals.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said that while the Rwanda Bill would ensure the bar for legal challenges was “set extremely high”, it was “also right to ensure that we have the resources to deal with the minority of claims should they arise”.



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.