Tory deputy chairmen resign over Rwanda Bill as Sunak dealt fresh blow to his authority

Two Tory deputy chairmen have stepped down from their party positions after backing amendments that seek to beef up Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda Bill.

Lee Anderson (pictured) and Brendan Clarke-Smith said it was “important in terms of credibility” to be “consistent” in arguing that measures must be put in place to ensure the Government’s flagship asylum policy is legally watertight.

In a joint letter, they told the Prime Minister that “whilst our main wish is to strengthen the legislation, this means that in order to vote for amendments we will therefore need to offer you our resignations from our roles”.

They backed the legislative changes “not because we are against the legislation, but because like everybody else we want it to work”, they said.

Jane Stevenson, a parliamentary private secretary in the Department for Business and Trade, also confirmed she would vote for the amendment.

It comes as Rishi Sunak was dealt a fresh blow to his authority as 68 MPs, including 60 Tories, voted in favour of changes to the Bill put forward by Conservative backbencher Sir Bill Cash.

The amendment seeking to ensure UK and international law cannot be used to block a person being removed to Rwanda was rejected by a majority of 461, but the rebellion gives an indication of the scale of unease within the Conservative Party during an election year.

Around 40 Tory backbenchers including former prime minister Liz Truss, former ministers Suella Braverman, Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg and Sir Simon Clarke and former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith earlier met to agree backing the changes.

A Downing Street source said: “The PM accepts their resignation and thanks both Lee and Brendan for their dedication and hard work for the Conservative Party.

“This is the toughest legislation ever brought before Parliament to tackle illegal migration.

“This Bill will make it clear that if you come here illegally, you will not be able to stay. We must pass this Bill to deliver what all Conservatives want – a credible plan to stop the boats.”

The Liberal Democrats said the Prime Minister has “again been embarrassed by his own MPs”.

The party’s home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said: “If the Prime Minister can’t even settle squabbles in his own party, how can he be expected to run the country?”

Here is Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith’s resignation letter in full:

Dear Prime Minister,

When we were elected in 2019 we promised the public that we would Get Brexit Done and Take Back Control. One of the key issues for the public was our sovereignty and making sure our Parliament and our courts would have supremacy over distant and unaccountable ones abroad. This Conservative Government has taken unprecedented steps to make sure that this is the case.

Globally we see the huge impact of migration, both legal and illegal and that is why it has been so important to bring in measures to bring these numbers down. Our returns policy and working together with partners such as Albania is but one example of how this Government has taken up the challenge, alongside our work against criminal networks. The Rwanda plan represents a clear deterrent and it is noteworthy that other countries are now looking at following our lead.

The United Kingdom is a welcoming country and we can be very proud of our record taking in refugees and those who wish to contribute to society and make it their home. Indeed, many of those who have done so would be the first to recognise that this system also needs to be robust and supported by the principle of fairness. There are far too many who wish to cheat our system and we continue to witness the scourge of the evil people smuggling gangs, with yet more tragic deaths in the Channel.

Whilst we have taken steps to tackle these important issues, we have done so being bound by a Blair-era legal framework and international agreements which are out of date and do not reflect the realities of the twenty first century.

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% support and the support of our constituents.

Labour has no plan. They have voted against every single measure we have taken to prevent deaths in the Channel, to crack down on criminal gangs and to return those with no right to be here to their countries of origin. A Labour Government would be a disaster and would lead to an open-door immigration policy. They would scrap the Rwanda scheme in its entirety, bring around 100,000 extra asylum seekers as part of a deal with the European Union and, as they have already demonstrated and signed letters supporting, take foreign national offenders convicted of some of the most heinous crimes off flights back to their countries of origin. They have no interest whatsoever in tackling this issue and neither do the Liberal Democrats or the SNP.

In the past we have signed amendments, voted for ten minute rule bills and spoken on various occasions in the media to argue that safeguards need to (sic) put in place to make sure our legislation is watertight. It is therefore important in terms of credibility that we are consistent with this.

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.

As two people who have been on very different political journeys, one as a person who followed the same path many voters did for the first time at the last General Election and another who has been a lifelong Conservative Party supporter, it has been a huge honour for both of us to serve as Deputy Chairmen of the party. CCHQ has an excellent team and the Chairman is doing a tremendous job in making sure we are in good shape to campaign for a historic fifth term and to prevent the unthinkable prospect of a Labour Government, which would damage this country so much.

Our support for the party and this Government remains as strong as ever and that is why we are so passionate about making this legislation work. However, we fully appreciate that with such important roles there is also the issue of being bound by collective responsibility. It is with this in mind that we fully appreciate that whilst our main wish is to strengthen the legislation, this means that in order to vote for amendments we will therefore need to offer you our resignations from our roles.

We commend your work on illegal migration so far and your commitment to implementing the will of the British people. The last thing either of us wants to do is to distract from this. We both look forward to making this legislation work, to carrying out the will of the British people and to taking on Labour and winning the next General Election.

Yours sincerely,

Lee Anderson MP Brendan Clarke-Smith MP

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2024, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Yui Mok / PA.