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Tory Deputy Chairs Quit As Rwanda Bill Rebellion Gains Momentum

Conservative MP Lee Anderson

3 min read

Conservative MPs Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke Smith have quit their roles as deputy chairmen of the Tory party in order to vote for amendments to Rishi Sunak's Rwanda legislation, against Government instruction.

The pair resigned on Tuesday night ahead of House of Commons votes on amendments put forward by MPs on the right of the parliamentary Conservative party. MP Jane Stevenson, parliamentary private secretary to the secretary of state for business and trade Kemi Badenoch has also resigned from her position after breaking to government whip to vote for the amendments. 

They were told by Government Whips that they would not be able to stay in their roles if they defied the Prime Minister by voting for the proposed changes, which seek to harden the bill.

Anderson and Clarke Smith belong to a faction of Tory MPs who argue that the legislation in its current form does not go far enough to stop legal challenges blocking deportations to the East African country.

Fifty-eight Conservative MPs voted for the rebel amendments tabled by ex-home office minister Robert Jenrick and senior Brexiteer Bill Cash on Tuesday night. As well as Anderson and Clarke Smith they include former prime minister Liz Truss, ex-Cabinet minister Simon Clarke, and influential backbencher Jake Berry. 

If around 30 Tory MPs vote against the legislation as a whole on Wednesday evening, the government faces defeat. This outcome would deliver a huge blow to the Prime Minister's authority and raise big questions about the future of the Rwanda policy.

Writing to Sunak, Anderson and Clarke Smith said: "Prime Minister, you pledged to do whatever it takes to stop the boats. You have been clear and resolute over the Rwanda plan and you have stated that you will not let a foreign court block these flights. You have our 100 per cent support and the support of our constituents. 

They added: "We have already had two pieces of legislation thwarted by a system that does not work in favour of the British people. It is for this reason that we have supported the amendments to the Rwanda Bill.

"This is not because we are against the legislation, but because like everybody else we want it to work. This task is not an easy one and we appreciate the fine balance that must be struck."

Downing Street has repeatedly insisted that the legislation as it currently exists is the strongest it can be without undermining its purpose of deterring channel crossings, and that any amendments must have a "respectable" legal argument underpinning them.

The right of the Conservative party wants the government to take a harder approach to ignoring the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights in order to get flights to Kigali off the ground before the next general election. 

However, ministers are concerned that doing so would be a clear breach of the UK's international obligations, and may even prompt the Rwandan government to withdraw from its agreement to take migrants from Britain.

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