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Tories Tell Rishi Sunak To "Pause" Rwanda Bill As He Scrambles To Avoid Major Defeat

Rishi Sunak (Alamy)

6 min read

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is still scrambling to avoid a defeat on the government's new Rwanda Bill, with a rebel group of Conservative MPs plotting their next move after attending last-ditch talks with Sunak in No10.

On Tuesday morning, former cabinet minister Simon Clarke told BBC Radio 4 that he and others on the right of the party wanted the government to "pause" the legislation.

"We believe the best solution here is that we should pause this legislation today," he said.

"We should come back with a new bill, which would obviously need to be somewhat different in scope and effect in order to pass the parliamentary rules, but that could be drawn up, it could include safeguards to this effect.

He added that “in the end, this boils down to the supremacy of the British Parliament” over the rulings of courts. 

The Home Office will publish a policy document pertaining to Rwanda on Tuesday, according to a No10 spokesperson, which will include evidence of why it is a safe country and an economic assessment of the scheme.

Members of the rebel group of MPs the New Conservatives – including Jonathan Gullis, Marco Longhi, Danny Kruger, Miriam Cates, Lee Anderson, and others – were invited to an emergency breakfast with the prime minister in No10 on Tuesday morning.

A Tory MP and member of the New Conservatives told PoliticsHome the Bill was not "perfect" and believed some of the criticisms of the Bill raised by the ERG were valid. However, they said they will vote for the Bill as they knew how long it took for legislation to be drafted and brought forward to the House of Commons. 

Another senior Conservative – who will also be voting for the Bill – told PoliticsHome the ERG did not hold the same influence across the Conservative Party as when Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker was Chair. "It’s his organisational nous that is formidable," they added.

They thought the group's influence had waned and had splintered since the votes on the Windsor Framework. 

Home Secretary James Cleverly, arriving for the regular weekly cabinet meeting, also entered 10 Downing Street shortly before the New Conservatives were seen to leave. The rebel MPs in attendance then hosted another meeting between themselves to discuss their next moves, but have not confirmed whether Sunak has succeeded in winning them over. 

One minister said there were quite a lot of "pissed off" MPs in the Conservative Party, and feared they could abstain or vote against the Government's Rwanda Bill on Tuesday evening. 

New Conservatives
Rebel Conservative MPs had breakfast with Rishi Sunak in 10 Downing Street for around an hour on Tuesday morning (Alamy)

A No10 spokesperson told The Sun it was a "very useful meeting" and that the bill had been drafted with "colleagues' input". They insisted the bill "will work and will do what we need it to do".

With a spokesperson for the right-wing group saying on Monday night that the bill would need “major surgery or replacement”, Sunak faces a huge task in convincing the right of his party that they should support it when it goes to a vote on Tuesday evening. 

The Prime Minister received a boost on Monday night when the One Nation caucus of moderate Tory MPs said they would vote for the bill on Tuesday evening, despite their "real concerns" over it. Sunak will be meeting this group on Tuesday afternoon to discuss their concerns further, with speculation mounting as to whether some of the group may yet abstain from the vote.

Flick Drummond, Conservative MP for Meon Valley, and a member of the One Nation caucus, told PoliticsHome she will vote for the Rwanda Bill but will withdraw her support if it is amended to override international law. 

"I am voting with the One Nation caucus. So voting for the Bill tonight but will oppose any amendments that put us in contention with our international agreements. I hope the PM gets it through," Drummond said. 

Some Tory grandees have also advised MPs to support the government, including former defence secretary Ben Wallace who wrote in the Telegraph that fellow Tory MPs should not "wreck" the government by voting down the bill.

Former cabinet minister David Davis told Sky News on Tuesday many Conservative MPs were becoming more "anxious" to get the Bill through Parliament. 

"I'm strongly of the view that it is actually  very difficult to go any further than Rishi has proposed to go," he added.

However, it looks likely that the groups wanting the bill to go further could be strong enough in number to defeat the bill. The vote early on Tuesday evening will be three-line whip with pairing and slips canceled, which has meant members of the International Development Committee have had to cancel a trip to the Caribbean.

A No10 spokesperson confirmed that Energy Minister Graham Stewart has returned to the UK from the COP28 summit in Dubai to partake in tonight’s Rwanda vote and will fly back to Dubai afterwards.

The disunity of the party was apparent overnight, as Conservative backbench MP Tim Loughton replied "Stop!" on X to a post by former immigration minister Robert Jenrick posting that the bill was "fundamentally flawed".

Minister for illegal migration Michael Tomlinson told Times Radio he would "consider all options" and that if passed, the bill could be amended to represent views from across his party and others. 

"There will be amendments tabled, and we will look them... I will go through them line by line and I will engage constructively with colleagues as I have done throughout," he said.

"My job there is to persuade colleagues that this is the right principle. Let's get through the principle and then let's thrash out the details."

He said he hoped to reach out "right across the parliamentary party" and respond to their different concerns.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said on Tuesday morning that Labour would ditch the legislation if they got into government, calling the Rwanda scheme a "gimmick".

He told BBC Radio 4 that Labour’s policy to stop illegal migration would be “rather more mundane”, and that rather than "wasting political capital" on Rwanda, Labour would want to put money in a “police unit” working across it.

“I do think that the single most effective way to stop these crossings is to break the gangs that are running the vile trade in the first place," he said.

"I've talked to the forces that we need to combine with to smash these gangs. What they say is we need more muscle.

"We need to make sure that all countries have got this as an absolute priority that takes political capital. I would much rather our prime minister was spending the political capital on breaking the gangs in the first place than wasting political capital on a gimmick that is Rwanda."

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