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Tory Rebels Say There's Still "Deals To Be Done" On Illegal Migration Bill Concessions

4 min read

Rebel Conservative MPs are continuing talks with the government over the Illegal Migration Bill in a last-ditch attempt to shape the controversial legislation after failing to secure certain concessions in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

"There are deals to be done here," a Tory backbencher who is trying to convince the government to make further changes to the Bill told PoliticsHome.

Tim Loughton, the Tory MP for Worthing and Shoreham, is leading discussions with ministers on behalf of the numerous Conservative backbenchers who are pushing for further changes to the Bill, as the House of Lords prepare to hold more votes on it on Wednesday evening.

On Tuesday night, the House of Commons voted to reject 18 amendments to the migration bill passed by the House of Lords in a voting marathon lasting for nearly four hours. It will now return to the Lords, where peers are expected to try to rescue some of their initial attempts to challenge government proposals. 

While the situation is fast-moving and fluid, the feeling in the upper chamber on Wednesday afternoon was that the contentious legislation could come back to the Lords several times before it receives parliamentary approval. There is no appetite among peers to stop the bill becoming law before the summer break, but there is a belief that further, meaningful changes are possible before that point.

The peers added 20 amendments to the bill on the most recent occasion, but are now expected to send a significantly smaller number back to the Commons for their consideration as part of efforts to focus energies on areas where further wins are realistically possible. Peers are expected to add less than a dozen amendments to the bill in this evening's votes.

A Labour source in the Lords said sending 20 amendments to MPs again would be "showboating", when peers should be spending the little time they have left focusing on areas where further movement from the government is possible.

On Tuesday night the government avoided defeat, and while there was a significant Tory rebellion on the issue of modern slavery, which is major area of concern for ex-prime minister Theresa May. Sixteen Conservative MPs including May voted against the government on this amendment.

Prior to last night's vote, May told the House of Commons that the government plans in their current form would "consign more people to slavery". 

"This bill is not just written to stop the boats, it covers all illegal migration and its unwritten subtext is the stop certain victims’ claims of modern slavery bill,” she said.

“Not stop false claims of modern slavery, but stop all claims full stop and that is where I depart from the government.”

Former PM Theresa May is leading backbench efforts for more government concessions on the migration bill (Alamy)

There were similar Conservative rebellions on the issues of the detention of children and the creation of safe and legal routes for migrants seeking asylum in the UK. Fifteen Tories voted against the government on the former, and 13 defied the government on the latter.

The rebellion involved other senior Tories like former Cabinet ministers Robert Buckland and Damian Greem, ex-party leader Iain Duncan Smith and senior backbencher Caroline Nokes.

In a previous concession ministers agreed to limit the maximum time that an unaccompanied child migrant can be detained at the border to eight days. Concerned Tory MPs feel this is still too long, however, and are pushing for it to be reduced further. There is also unease with the government giving itself the ability to extend the 72-hour detention period for pregnant women who arrive in small boats to a week.

These areas are where the Tory rebels and likeminded peers focus their attention as they try to secure more concessions from the government before the bill becomes law, which Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wants to achieve next week before parliament breaks up for its lengthy summer recess.

Between now and next Thursday, the Bill, which is central to Sunak's major pledge to curb small boats crossings, is set for further rounds of parliamentary "ping pong" – where it is passed back and forth between the two houses. 

During yesterday's debate, Home Office minister Robert Jenrick said it vital" that parliament passes the bill as soon as possible, and accused peers of "wrecking" the government's plans to tackle Channel crossings.

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