Rishi Sunak dismisses Tory criticism of Rwanda bill as 'debating society behaviour'

14 December 2023, 06:51

Rishi Sunak has dismissed Tory criticism of Rwanda bill as 'debating society behaviour'
Rishi Sunak has dismissed Tory criticism of Rwanda bill as 'debating society behaviour'. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Rishi Sunak has criticised the dissent from MPs in his own party over the Rwanda bill as "debating society behaviour".

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The PM won a vote on the Safety of Rwanda Bill on Tuesday evening, with 313 votes in favour of the legislation and 269 votes against it.

Mr Sunak had spent the day heading off rebellions among backbench MPs - but right-wing Conservative factions have since said they may vote against the draft law when it returns to the Commons next year.

One particular concern among elements of the Tory right are amendments to make sure some asylum seekers are deported to Rwanda before the next election.

But the PM has not been able to confirm a date for the first flights to the east African country, simply saying in an interview that he was "keen to crack on with it".

Read more: How did your MP vote on the Rwanda Bill? Full list of results

Read more: Rwandan criminals could come to the UK as part of Rishi's migrant deal, James Cleverly admits

Cleverly - 'I see no reason why migrants won't be sent to Rwanda in coming months'

Mr Sunak faces dissent from both the moderate and right wing of his party. If the bill is strengthened too much to appease the right, the 'One Nation' moderates could find the legislation hard to back.

As part of his efforts to hold off rebellion, the PM said that he wanted to have a tangible effect on society, rather than simply talking about change.

"What the country wants is a practical government that is making a difference to their lives and changing things for the better, not a debating society," he told the Spectator magazine.

"People are frustrated that the pace of change is not fast enough. I get that. I am working night and day, tirelessly, to keep making a difference."

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday. Picture: Alamy

Sending asylum seekers to Rwanda has become a key part of 'stopping the boats', one of Mr Sunak's pledges to voters ahead of the general election expected in the next year.

Asked whether the promise was a mistake, Mr Sunak said: "No, I think it's a straightforward phrase.

"Everyone knows what I wanted to do. I do ultimately want to stop the boats, because there isn't an acceptable amount of illegal migration."

He added: "If someone had said to me, 'You are going to have reduced the number of small boat arrivals into this country by a third', after they had quadrupled in the last few years... I think someone would have said, 'What are you smoking?'"

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

The Bill compels judges to treat Rwanda as a safe country after the Supreme Court ruled the scheme was unlawful over risks to refugees.

The legislation would give ministers the powers to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act.

But it does not go as far as providing allowing them to dismiss the European Convention on Human Rights, as hardliners including sacked home secretary Suella Braverman have demanded.

No Conservative MPs voted against the bill, but 37 abstained, including Ms Braverman, former immigration minister Robert Jenrick and European Research Group (ERG) Chairman Mark Francois.

Mr Francois announced moments ahead of the vote that collectively the ERG could not support the bill due to its ‘many omissions’ and so would be abstaining from the vote.

The Bill will now progress to the next Commons stage in January, when MPs will debate amendments.

A Tory critic said if no amendments were made, the Bill would be "killed".

MPs gathered in Parliament for the vote on Tuesday.
MPs gathered in Parliament for the vote on Tuesday. Picture: Parliament TV

"This Bill has been allowed to live another day," they told the Telegraph.

"But without amendments, it will be killed next month. It's now up to the government to decide what it wants to do."

Following the outcome of the vote, Mr Sunak wrote on X: "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."

Home Secretary James Cleverly said: "Parliament has spoken. We must be able to choose who comes to our country - not criminal gangs. That’s what this Bill will deliver."

Mr Sunak has avoided a Tory rebellion.
Mr Sunak has avoided a Tory rebellion. Picture: Alamy

Before the vote, former immigration minister Robert Jenrick took aim at the government, calling the Bill 'flawed' and accusing it of "sophistry".

While co-chair of the Tory faction of 'New Conservatives' - one of the so-called 'five families', in reference to the leading mafia dynasties of New York City - Danny Kruger also took aim at the bill in the debate on Tuesday evening, dubbing it 'unsatisfactory' before confirming he would not vote with the government.

Andrew Marr challenges Immigration Minister Tom Pursglove over the Rwanda plan

Mr Sunak received a boost from One Nation Tory MPs ahead of the vote, as the group of around 100 confirmed their plans on Monday to back the Bill.

The ERG's so-called 'Star Chamber' of legal experts earlier published a letter to members, stating the Bill needed "significant amendments".

"The Bill overall provides a partial and incomplete solution to the problem of legal challenges in the UK courts being used as stratagems to delay or defeat the removal of illegal migrants to Rwanda," a letter from the lawyers of the prominent group of pro-Brexit MPs stated.

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