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Rwanda Bill Scrapes Through Commons After Rishi Sunak Swerves Major Defeat

Rishi Sunak swerved a rebellion on the Rwanda Bill (Alamy)

6 min read

The government's contentious Rwanda Bill has scraped through the House of Commons despite threats of a major rebellion from the right of the Tory party.

313 MPs voted in favour of the legislation, while 269 voted against. The Government won with a majority of 44. No Tory MP voted against the Rwanda Bill while 38 Conservative MPs abstained. 

Labour had already said its MPs planned to oppose the bill, meaning 29 rebels on the Tory benches were needed in order for the government to be defeated. 

Downing Street welcomed the result on the Bill, which they described as the "toughest" piece of legislation ever to be introduced in Parliament. 

“Tonight the House has shown its support for the Prime Minister's legislation to deem Rwanda safe and stop the boats," a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said. 

“We will now work to ensure that this Bill gets on to the Statute book so that we can get flights off to Rwanda and stop the boats.” 

Rishi Sunak has been under intense pressure to sell the legislation to MPs across his party, despite a significant number of MPs expressing doubts for opposing reasons. Moderate Conservatives are concerned about the UK breaching international human rights obligations, while those on the right of the party have objected to limited provisions in which asylum seekers could launch legal challenges to block their removal to Rwanda if they believed they would be at risk. 

Eventually MPs affiliated with the One Nation group – a moderate faction of the party – had confirmed that they intended to vote the bill through at second reading stage and address concerns when it reached committee stage in the new year. Former immigration minister Robert Jenrick, who last week resigned over what he described as a "fatally" flawed bill ultimately appeared to agree not to oppose it.

But other MPs on the right of the party have proved harder to win over. A last-ditch attempt to win over the influential New Conservatives during a breakfast at Downing Street on Tuesday morning did not appear to have been wholly successful. 

On Tuesday evening Mark Francois, the leader of the ERG, Miriam Cates, the co-chair of the New Conservatives, and John Hayes, the chair of the Common Sense Group, said they would not be voting for the Bill. 

Speaking on behalf of five Tory groups who met in Parliament early on Tuesday evening to discuss their position on the contentious legislation, spokesperson Francois said they had "collectively" decided that they could not vote for the legislation "because of its many omissions". But they aim to put forward amendments that would "strengthen" the Bill and close any potential loopholes if it reaches its next stage. 

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. 

"We have decided collectively that we cannot support the bill because of its many omissions. Therefore, while it's down to every individual colleague, ultimately, to decide what to do. Collectively, we will not be supporting it," Francois said. 

Danny Kruger and Cates, who co-chair the New Conservatives, later published a joint statement in the Telegraph confirming they would not vote for the Bill, claiming it failed to "establish the superiority of our democratic parliament over foreign courts".

On Monday, Francois told reporters that he believed the Government would be "best advised to pull the bill".

Former cabinet minister Simon Clarke, and a member of the Conservative Growth Group (CGG), wrote in the Telegraph on Tuesday that the Bill did not go far enough, and said he hoped the Government would withdraw the Bill and strengthen it before presenting it to the House of Commons. 

Damian Green, the Chair of the One Nation Group, told Channel 4 News his faction could “just about swallow” the Rwanda legislation.

“We have genuine deep concerns about this. We can just about live with it,” he told the broadcaster. “But what we can't live with is legislation that squirrels off in the wrong direction as it goes through the Committee stage,” he added.

Many Tory grandees in the Party, who do not belong to any specific faction, have publicly backed the Government’s plan, as they have claimed it is the best option available. 

Charles Walker, Conservative MP for Broxbourne, previously told PoliticsHome there was no better option to reduce illegal migration to the UK than supporting the Rwanda Bill.

On Tuesday MPs debated the emergency Rwanda Bill which has been drafted to legislate its stalled policy to remove illegal migrants to Rwanda. 

Robert Jenrick, former immigration minister, resigned from Government after railing against the Bill. He called it "sophistry" after he said the Government's approach to the issue was based on intelligent but incorrect arguments. 

"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," he added. 

James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, told the House of Commons the Rwanda Bill was "very much pushing the edge of the envelope" but claimed the proposed legislation was "within the framework of international law".

He said the Government was already "stopping the boats", and listed a number of examples where the Government had signed a series of returns and cooperation agreements with France, Bulgaria, Turkey, Italy, and Georgia.

Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, asked Cleverly whether the Government will send Rwanda an extra £50m in 2025 and £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," he added.

Former cabinet minister Robert Buckland, Conservative MP for South Swindon, who is on the One Nation wing of the Conservative Party, 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.

The Conservative Party has trailed the Labour Party by more than 20 points in the polls for a number of successive months, according to YouGov.

Many Tory voters who backed the Party in 2019 see immigration as a pressing issue and one of the most important facing the country.

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