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"Bulk" Of Right Wing Tory MPs Refuse To Support The Rwanda Bill

Conservative MP Mark Francois

7 min read

A collective of Conservative MPs on the right of the party has confirmed that it will not support the Rwanda bill in its current form, with the "bulk" vowing to abstain when voting on its second reading on Tuesday night.

Speaking on behalf of five Tory groups who met in Parliament early on Tuesday evening to discuss their position on the contentious legislation, spokesperson MP Mark Francois said they had "collectively" decided that they could not vote for the legislation "because of its many omissions".

The five groups include the European Research Group (ERG), the New Conservatives, the Common Sense Group, the Conservative Growth Group and the Northern Research Group. Francois is a leading figure in the ERG which was instrumental in obstructing Theresa May's Brexit deal. 

He said the MPs would try to secure changes to the Rwanda Bill through amendments later in the parliamentary process, setting up a showdown with Downing Street and MPs in the "moderate" wing of the parliamentary party early next year. 

"The Prime Minister has been telling colleagues today he is prepared to entertain tightening the bill," Francois said in a statement ahead of the vote on Tuesday evening. 

"With that aim, at the Committee stage, we will aim to table amendments which  we hope, if accepted, materially improve the bill and remove some of its weaknesses." 

A Conservative MP who attended the meeting of the five groups said the majority of MPs in the discussions agreed to effectively "go on strike" until Sunak agreed to change the bill.

Parliament has spent Tuesday afternoon debating new emergency legislation designed to sidestep the UK's international law obligations in order to enact its stalled policy to forcibly deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. MPs will vote on the new measures early on Tuesday evening, with Downing Street spending the day scrambling to get rebels on side to back the legislation. 

Former immigration minister Robert Jenrick, who resigned from government last week in protest against the bill, said the government's approach to this issue was to make clever but false arguments, calling it "sophistry".

"I want this bill to work," he said. "The test of this policy is not is it the strongest bill we've done; it's not is it a good compromise; it's will it work? That is all the public care about.

"They don't care about Rwanda as a scheme, they care about stopping the boats. And we are sent here to do that for them.

"I will never elevate contested notions of international law over the interests of my constituents over vital national interests, like national security, like border security. This bill could be so much better."

Home Secretary James Cleverly admitted to the chamber that the new bill was "very much pushing the edge of the envelope" but reasserted that it was still "within the framework of international law".

He defended the scheme and the new legislation, and said that the government is already "stopping the boats", citing a number of returns and cooperation agreements with countries including France, Bulgaria, Turkey Italy, and Georgia.

"This government is stopping the boats... arrivals are down by a third this year, as illegal entries are on the rise elsewhere in Europe," the Home Secretary said.

"And the initial asylum backlog which stood at 92,000 is now under 20,000. We have sent back 22,000 illegal migrants. and the UK's arrangement with Albania proved that deterrence works."

The year, the UK has returned 5,000 Albanians to their country and arrivals from Albania decreased by 90 per cent.

He claimed that in recent years, government efforts to tackle illegal migration and deport foreign national offenders had been "frustrated by a seemingly endless cycle of legal challenges and rulings from domestic and foreign courts".

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper asked Cleverly to confirm reports that the UK is due to give Rwanda a further £50m in 2025 and another £50m in 2026. While he did confirm the £50m sum for 2025, he did not comment on the figure for 2026.

"The Right Honourable lady is asked me to confirm figures which we have in the public domain," Cleverly replied.

"I'm totally comfortable confirming what I've already said."

MPs from all parties will continue to debate the bill in the House of Commons throughout the afternoon.

Mark Francois

Co-chair of the New Conservatives Danny Kruger said that he would not be supporting the "unsatisfactory" bill

"I regret we've got an unsatisfactory bill, I can't undertake to support it tonight," he said. 

"I hoped the government would agree to pull the bill and allow us to work with them and with colleagues across the House to produce a better bill one that respects parliamentary sovereignty, and also satisfies the additional concerns of colleagues about vulnerable individuals."

Kruger also wrote a joint op-ed with co-chair Miriam Cates in the Telegraph, in which they wrote that while they both not be voting with the government, they hoped the government would come forward with amendments that would "address the practical limitations of the Bill and the principle of parliamentary sovereignty".

It is unclear how each individual member of the New Conservatives will vote, after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been scrambling to secure their support, including at an emergency breakfast in No10 on Tuesday morning.

An early challenge to the government came from moderate Conservative MP Robert Buckland, who urged the Home Secretary to consider the "balance of our constitution".

"This House, this Parliament, is sovereign, but we also have the independence of the courts and the rule of law to bear in mind," the former justice secretary said.

"Restraint on both sides by the judiciary and by this place is essential if we are to maintain the balance of our constitution."

Sir Bob Neill, the Conservative chair of the justice committee, echoed Buckland's comments and said that government must not come to the conclusion that the "ends justify the means". He did, however, suggest he will support the bill at the vote as he believed ministers had just kept on the right side of the line, with “great endeavour”.

However, Priti Patel, who originally signed the Rwanda deal when she was home secretary last year, told the chamber that it was "absolutely appalling" that people had been "talking down" the country of Rwanda. 

"I say that because the partnership with Rwanda was established as a world-leading innovative way to tackle the challenges posed by mass migration and the displacement of people," she said.

"It was carefully designed with our friends in the Rwandan government to do one thing that no-one in this House has mentioned at all today, which is to raise the international bar when it comes to the treatment of asylum seekers with compassion and support when it comes to their resettlement."

Labour's Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper responded to Cleverly's opening statement by accusing the government of "total Tory chaos" rather than having a debate over how to "fix the broken asylum system".

"This week the prime minister has got them all into, and got the country into as well, tearing lumps out of each other over a failing policy while they let the country down," she said.

Labour MP and chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee Diana Johnson also confronted the government on what she perceived as a lack of transparency surrounding the Rwanda scheme.

"The Home Affairs Committee was concerned that the policy was good at generating headlines but lacked a clear evidence base and full costings, and the Home Affairs Committee has been attempting to scrutinize the policy ever since," she said.

She added that it has been "difficult" for the committee to get facts and information from the Home Office on the details of the scheme.

"This has undermined the committee's ability to perform our scrutiny function," she continued.

Additional reporting by Adam Payne.

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