Rishi Sunak has survived a damaging row over his flagship Rwanda bill after a Conservative rebellion melted away and dozens of rightwing MPs balked at further undermining the prime minister’s authority.
Following a pivotal last-minute gathering of over 45 rebellious members of the Conservative party, the leaders of the group determined that voting alongside the Labour party to defeat the bill during an election year could potentially lead to the government’s downfall.
Only 11 members of the Conservative party, including Suella Braverman and Robert Jenrick, who previously held positions in the government, opposed the legislation. The bill was ultimately approved by a majority of 44 votes, with 320 in favor and 276 against.
The recent turmoil and disputes at Westminster, where many Conservative members rebelled and proposed amendments to strengthen the legislation, caused relief in Downing Street. Ultimately, the bill has successfully cleared its last hurdle in the Commons.
Sunak is now confronted with additional challenging conflicts with colleagues who are already warning of changes to the deportation plan for Rwanda in the House of Lords in order to ensure its alignment with global regulations.
The law will encounter multiple legal disputes from people at risk of being deported to Rwanda. Attorneys for the government have proposed that there is a 50/50 likelihood of the initial flight departing before the upcoming general election in the fall.
According to The Guardian, the Home Office has already chosen the initial 100 individuals to be deported. Officials stated that these cases were selected because there were no clear reasons to contest their removal.
Although Sunak’s risky decision to challenge the views of his own party has proven successful, he has suffered a loss of power due to the departures of two deputy chairs from the Conservative party, Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith, as well as numerous MPs who believe that the strategy will fail.
On Wednesday, there was another uprising that caused him trouble, as 61 members of the Conservative Party voted for a proposed change made by Jenrick. This change was meant to prevent sudden orders from European judges. Ultimately, the MPs voted against the amendment with 65 in favor and 536 against.
On Wednesday evening, Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, informed Members of Parliament: “The current state of disarray severely undermines the prime minister’s authority – he may hold the position, but he lacks true power. His policy has no support from anyone, and the true flaw is that he doesn’t even believe in it himself.”
During the prime minister’s questions, Sunak promised to take control of the small boats issue. However, Downing Street did not reject claims that the Home Office has been unable to communicate with over 4,000 individuals who were supposed to be sent to Rwanda.
The government offered several incentives to gain support from Tory MPs for the bill. One of these was a proposed alteration to Whitehall regulations that would require civil servants to disregard Strasbourg rulings that pause deportation flights to Rwanda.
The proposed plans have been criticized by unions as they require Home Office employees to follow last-minute injunctions from the European Court of Human Rights, but only if directed to do so by a minister. Three civil service unions have expressed concern over this, stating that it puts senior mandarins and border force staff in a difficult position where they must decide between violating international law, defying ministerial orders, or resigning.
Ministers had previously disclosed intentions to increase the capacity of courts and hire 150 additional judges to expedite asylum appeals as part of the Rwanda legislation. Following this announcement, the most prominent judge in England and Wales, Sue Carr, expressed her opinion that the assignment of judges should be solely determined by the judiciary.
Unfortunately, government officials were not able to provide any compromises to strengthen the bill due to the concerns expressed by over 100 members of the One Nation group, who identify as center-right, that they would not accept any efforts to make the legislation even more extreme.
On the second day of discussions about changes to the document, Jeremy Wright, a former attorney general for the Conservative party, expressed concern that the government should not dismiss the importance of international law.
“He stated that the government should not have the authority to act as the sole judge on matters of international law. This chamber would be mistaken in passing a bill that implies such power.”
Braverman urged his colleagues in the Commons to reject the bill, emphasizing that it was their final opportunity to address the issue. He warned that failure to do so would result in the British people holding them accountable.
The Tory rebels created a proposed legislation known as the “Rwanda bill” that aimed to prevent all appeals from migrants against deportation without violating international law.
11 Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs), including ex-cabinet member Simon Clarke, long-time Tory Bill Cash, and leaders of the New Conservatives Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger, voted against the bill. Additionally, 18 MPs from both sides of the party chose not to vote.
However, the majority of Tory rebels came to a different conclusion. “I can’t walk through the voting lobbies with Keir Starmer when there’s an election around the corner and especially on the issue of migration,” one told the Guardian.
Some people were worried that rejecting the bill at its third reading would disrupt the proposed plan for Rwanda and cause chaos within the government, potentially leading to the downfall of the Conservative party in elections. Conservative MP Bob Seely stated, “If we vote against the bill tonight, we’ll all have to start job hunting. That’s the reality we’re facing.”
Former minister Tim Loughton cautioned Conservative MPs who planned to vote against the bill to carefully consider their actions before causing further conflict. He acknowledged that the bill may not be flawless, but stressed that it was the best option available.
A source from the Tory rebel party, who spoke after a sudden meeting, informed journalists: “The majority of individuals who spoke in the meeting have agreed to support the bill during its third reading. A few colleagues may vote against it on principle, but it is highly likely that the bill will pass with ease this evening.”
During a dramatic day, there were comical moments, such as when President Paul Kagame of Rwanda expressed his frustration with the UK’s slow implementation of its deportation plan. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, he stated, “There are limits to how long this can continue.” When asked by reporters if he was aware of the ongoing debate in London, Kagame responded directly, “It is a problem for the UK, not for us.”
The UK has provided approximately £240 million to his administration as a component of the agreement, and an additional £50 million is anticipated to be received later this year. Kagame proposed that if Sunak is unable to successfully implement the deportation program, this amount could be refunded.
He stated that the funds will be allocated for individuals who attend. If they do not attend, the money can be refunded.
Yet, according to a spokesperson for the Rwandan government, the nation is not required to give back any of the payments. However, if the UK were to ask for a reimbursement, we would take it into consideration.
She clarified that this would only pertain to a portion of funds designated for migrant support. Government officials from the Senior Home Office have yet to disclose the additional amount the UK has committed to paying Rwanda in the first five years of the agreement.
Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, stated that the proposed legislation would lead to numerous individuals in dire circumstances going missing in the UK in order to evade deportation. He urged the government to acknowledge that the Rwanda plan is impractical and will only add to the already existing human turmoil.
The truth is that the government’s strategies are forcing vulnerable individuals into hazardous and precarious circumstances. We are concerned that a large number of them will vanish, putting themselves at risk for mistreatment and manipulation in order to avoid being sent to Rwanda.