Sunak faces down disgruntled right-wing Tory MPs to win crunch Rwanda vote

The Prime Minister has won a crunch vote on his Rwanda plan despite right-wing Conservative factions announcing they could not back emergency “stop the boats” legislation.

With Rishi Sunak facing a test of his authority, there appeared to be fears in his administration that a potential rebellion could see the Safety of Rwanda Bill defeated at its first hurdle in the Commons.

But MPs approved the Bill at second reading by 313 votes to 269 on Tuesday, giving the UK Government a comfortable winning majority of 44.

Following the result, the Prime Minister tweeted: “The British people should decide who gets to come to this country – not criminal gangs or foreign courts.

“That’s what this Bill delivers.

“We will now work to make it law so that we can get flights going to Rwanda and stop the boats.”

Tory MPs who had been demanding tougher measures as part of the legislation announced only moments before the crunch vote that they could not support the Bill in its current form.

The announcement had looked to put the Bill in potential jeopardy and there appeared to be nerves in Downing Street, with climate change minister Graham Stuart flown back from last-ditch talks at the Cop28 summit in Dubai to vote for the legislation.

But the outcome proved more comfortable than initially feared for Mr Sunak.

The division list showed no Tory MPs voted against the Bill.

There were 38 Conservative MPs listed as having no vote recorded, although this does not automatically equate to an abstention.

Senior Tory MPs who recorded no vote included former home secretary Suella Braverman, former immigration minister Robert Jenrick and former cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke, with all three of them having been outspoken critics of the emergency draft law.

Mark Francois, chairman of the European Research Group (ERG) of Eurosceptic Tories, and Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger from the New Conservatives group also recorded no vote.

Both their right-wing factions, along with Common Sense Group, the Conservative Growth Group and Northern Research Group — dubbed the “five families” — announced after a joint meeting in Westminster that they could not back the legislation.

Mrs Braverman, Mr Jenrick and Sir Simon were also in attendance at the 90-minute meeting.

Labour said the result meant the Tory “psychodrama” over tackling Channel crossings, which Mr Sunak has pledged to prevent ahead of a likely general election next year, would “drag on” into 2024.

The division list released by the Commons authorities indicates that 307 Tory MPs voted for the Bill, along with five independent MPs.

Among those supporting the Bill was Peter Bone, who had the Conservative whip suspended and is currently sitting as an independent after an investigation upheld counts of bullying and sexual misconduct against him relating to a staff member.

Mr Bone has denied the allegations.

The Safety of Rwanda Bill, along with a new treaty revealed last week with Kigali, is part of Mr Sunak’s plan to appease concerns of the Supreme Court about the treatment of asylum seekers who could potentially be deported to the east African nation.

It is designed to declare Rwanda is a safe country for asylum processing purposes and prevent judges from blocking sending migrants who arrive via small boats after crossing the Channel on a one-way trip to Kigali.

But the plan has faced resistance from both hardliners in Mr Sunak’s Conservative Party and its liberal wing.

The right of the party has pushed for measures to block interference from foreign courts, with Mr Sunak warned that “major surgery” was required to fix the flagship legislation.

Downing Street said it was prepared to listen to proposed changes from MPs at a later stage but Home Secretary James Cleverly suggested in the Commons that the legislation was already close to the limits of what would be possible.

The Prime Minister worked to avert a rebellion, making efforts to woo potential rebels over breakfast in Downing Street on Tuesday.

Shortly before the vote, the membership of “five families” met in a committee room to decide their next steps on the legislation, eventually declaring they could not back the Bill.

Mr Francois, speaking on their behalf, told reporters in Westminster: “We are not supporting the Bill. The bulk of us will abstain.”

He said they would instead be pushing for changes to be made in the new year when it returns to the Commons.

The ERG leader said Mr Sunak had been “telling colleagues today he is prepared to entertain tightening the Bill” and that, if the Prime Minister does not accept amendments to ensure that happens, then the five caucuses “reserve the right to vote against” the Government at the next stage.

Speaking to the PA news agency after the result, a Tory rebel source said: “This Bill has been allowed to live another day.

“But without amendments it will be killed next month. It is now up to the Government to decide what it wants to do.”

Tory MPs in the moderate One Nation faction – thought to have a membership of about 100 – said before the vote that they would back it.

But the group is likely to resist any amendments from the right that would risk the UK breaching the rule of law and its international obligations.

One Nation chairman Damian Green told BBC News he thought the “solid majority” secured by the Prime Minister meant that “if the Government sticks to its guns, then it can probably get this legislations through intact”.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “The Conservatives’ civil war is continuing, and the country is paying the price for this chaos

“Today’s debate shows how weak Rishi Sunak is with this Tory psychodrama now dragging on into the new year.”

Earlier in the Commons, Ms Cooper said the Rwanda plan was “extortionately expensive”, claiming it could cost £400 million and take more than 100 years to deport 15,000 people.

The Home Office has confirmed £240 million has been paid to Kigali so far, with another payment of £50 million anticipated in 2024/25. No deportation flights have yet taken off.

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