Politics

Sunak braced for collision with right-wing Tories over Rwanda bill

Rishi Sunak is gearing up for a potential rebellion among his backbenchers when his controversial Rwanda bill returns to the Commons on Tuesday.

The prime minister is facing a dilemma over the question of whether to toughen up the bill to appease those on the right of his party. If he does, he risks losing the support of the more centrist wing who already feel the bill goes too far in testing the boundaries of international law.

What is the latest Rwanda plan?

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill is aimed at reviving Mr Sunak’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda if they attempt to come to the UK via small boat crossings in the Channel.

The plan, which forms part of his strategy to “stop the boats”, was dealt a blow last year when the Supreme Court ruled the policy unlawful on the grounds there was a risk genuine refugees sent to Rwanda could be returned to their home country, where they would face “ill-treatment”.

In light of the Supreme Court’s judgment, Mr Sunak was forced to amend the bill to address its concerns.

The Safety of Rwanda Bill is designed to enable parliament to confirm Rwanda is a “safe country”.

Controversially, the legislation gives ministers the powers to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act, but does not go as far as allowing them to dismiss the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) entirely.

What is happening from Tuesday?

From Tuesday, the bill will go through committee stage, where detailed examination of the bill is carried out.

There will be debates and votes on Tuesday and into Wednesday. On Wednesday evening, there will be the third reading of the bill, which is the final chance for the Commons to debate the bill.

MPs will then vote on whether or not to approve the contents of the bill, in a crunch moment for Mr Sunak.

Why is Sunak facing a rebellion?

The right-wing rebels want the prime minister to go further in distancing the UK from human rights laws that might be used to stop flights taking off to the African country.

Robert Jenrick, who resigned as immigration minister in protest at the bill and has tabled a number of amendments, wants changes including a clause to allow ministers to ignore so-called “pyjama injunctions” issued by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) – last-minute orders from judges that could stop planes from taking off.

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Calls to ‘strengthen’ Rwanda bill

He also wants migrants to be blocked from bringing individual claims to suspend flights “in all but a limited set of circumstances”, and a broader block on claims that could be made under international treaties and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The amendments are designed to close off the vast majority of routes to legal challenges by migrants while leaving a few exceptions, such as when a migrant is medically unfit to fly (including pregnancy), or when they are under 18.

They are understood to be supported by around 56 Tory MPs, including the recently sacked home secretary Suella Braverman, former cabinet minister Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg and leaders of the New Conservatives Danny Kruger and Miriam Cates.

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PM asked if he will discipline frontbenchers who oppose plan

On Monday evening, Lee Anderson – the Conservative Party deputy chair who takes a hardline stance on immigration issues – confirmed he would back the rebel amendments, as did fellow deputy chair Brendan Clarke-Smith.

In an ominous sign for Mr Sunak, the Times also reported that Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch had privately warned the prime minister’s aides that the bill did not go far enough and that it needed to be tightened by stopping migrants from lodging individual appeals against their removal except in only the most exceptional circumstances.

Read more:
Rebel Tories not expecting to secure major changes to Rwanda bill
Tory MP appeals for unity ahead of Rwanda bill’s return to parliament

However, if Mr Sunak does accede to the rebels’ demands, he risks losing the support of the more centrist One Nation group, who have warned him against “rewriting” international obligations in the name of “self interest”.

The prime minister has also previously argued that moving a further “inch” on the bill would risk the Rwandan government pulling out.

What happened before Christmas?

The prime minister was braced for a Commons showdown when the Rwanda bill had its first test in the Commons – known as second reading – in mid-December.

But despite much fanfare and threats from right-wing Tories, Mr Sunak avoided a damaging rebellion and the legislation passed by 313 votes to 270 – a majority of 43.

Downing Street is hopeful that this outcome will be replicated once again – and that if any MPs do vote against the legislation, the numbers will be small.

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