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Tory Rebellion Falls Flat As Rwanda Bill Clears House Of Commons Hurdle

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (Alamy)

4 min read

Rishi Sunak's Rwanda Bill cleared its latest House of Commons vote after threats of a major Conservative backbench rebellion turned out to be empty.

The legislation, which is central to the Prime Minister's policy of stopping small boats illegally crossing the Channel, was approved by a comfortable House of Commons majority after critical MPs on the right of the Tory party stepped back from claims of a major rebellion.

320 MPs voted for the legislation, while 276 voted against it, giving the government a majority of 44. Only 11 Tory MPs rebelled in the end. They incuded erstwhile home secretary Suella Braverman and former immigration minister Robert Jenrick.

The government has been heavily criticised by a sizable wing of backbenchers for whom the Rwanda legislation is not hardline enough in preventing international law from blocking deportation flights to to the African country. Its critics have argued it should cut off all legal avenues for illegal migrants to challenge their deportation, which Government say could risk collapsing the proposal entirely. 

Both tonight and last night, dozens of Conservative MPs voted in favour of amendments which sought to alter the bill to this effect. The amendments were tabled by MPs Jenrick and influential Brexiteer Bill Cash.

Ahead of the Bill's third reading on Wednesday, 61 voted for Jenrick's amendment which sought to stop injunctions by the European Court of Human Rights from stopping deportation flights to Rwanda. Two deputy chairmen of the Conservative party, Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke Smith, quit their positions on Tuesday in order to defy the government and back rebel amendments, along with Jane Stevenson, who lost her job as a parliamentary private secretary to business and trade secretary Kemi Badenoch.

But as the pivotal vote on the legislation overall approached on Wednesday night, the vast majority of right-wing critics decideded that the Bill in its current form is better than no Bill at all, as defeating the government would have essentially killed the legislation.

Following a meeting of right-wing Tory MPs late on Wednesday afternoon, where they discussed how to proceed, most of them had decided to vote with their "head" over their "heart".

"Many colleagues in that room deprecated the state of the parliamentary party, and the feeling was that so many colleagues were out of touch with where the country was, and that the government was so slanted in direction of one particular faction, that this was as good as the outcome was going to get," a group source told PoliticsHome.

There was also some concern among right-wing Tories that inflicting a defeat on the government tonight would have risked bringing down Sunak's government and triggering a general election when the party is significantly behind in the polls.

The government's Rwanda bill aims to forcibly deport migrants who arrive illegally in the UK to Rwanda, where cases to be settled in the East African country will be processed, but has faced legal challenges over perceived safety breaches meaning no deportation flights have gone ahead. Additional legislation now aims to declare Rwanda a safe country in order to avoid human rights challenges in international courts. 

While MPs on the Tory right complained that the legislation was too soft when it came to overriding international law, Downing Street has repeatedly insisted that going any further would damage its legality and risk prompting the Rwandan government to withdraw from its deal with the UK.

The would-be rebels were particularly concerned that the European Court of Human Rights will be able to block individuals being deported to Rwanda by issuing emergency measures, known as Rule 39 orders.

Earlier today, No 10 challenged rebel Jenrick to disclose the legal advice that he sought to accompany his amendment. A Downing Street source told PoliticsHome "no-one has seen" the legal advice produced by lawyer John Larkin KC that Jenrick, who quit his Home Office role in protest against the Rwanda bill, had referred to in the run-up to tonight's votes.

Jenrick's resignation and subsequent decision to spearhead backbench opposition to PM's Rwanda policy has irritated government figures who believe he has a future bid to lead the Tory party in mind.

Once it has cleared its latest House of Commons hurdle, the Rwanda legislation will make its way to the House of Lords.

There, it is expected to be amended heavily by an alliance of opposition peers and Tories who are deeply uncomfortable with the government's plan to disapply human rights law and use legislation to declare Rwanda a "safe" country.

Additional reporting by Tom Scotson and Caitlin Doherty.

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