Rishi Sunak 'open' to changes to Rwanda Bill amid growing concerns over Tory rebellion

15 December 2023, 00:15 | Updated: 15 December 2023, 00:17

Rishi Sunak indicated he is open to making changes to his Rwanda Bill
Rishi Sunak indicated he is open to making changes to his Rwanda Bill. Picture: Getty

By Emma Soteriou

Rishi Sunak has indicated he is open to making changes to his Rwanda Bill if they can be backed up by "respectable" legal argument, in a bid to quell dissent among Tory MPs.

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The PM won a crunch vote with a 44-strong majority in the Commons on his emergency draft law aimed at reviving the policy to deport some asylum seekers to Kigali.

But he faces further opposition from hardliners on the Conservative right, who want the Bill strengthened, as well as more moderate wings of his party when it returns to the House next year.

The Prime Minister has previously insisted the legislation strikes the right balance, suggesting there is only an "inch" between his rescue plan and more radical measures that would risk Rwanda pulling out of the scheme.

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

Read more: Keir Starmer mocks Tory 'meltdown' in first PMQs after Rishi Sunak narrowly avoids Rwanda rebellion

Labour candidate Heidi Alexander predicts that Rishi Sunak will 'limp on' as PM until October next year

Speaking to broadcasters before a visit to a school in Finchley, north London, on Thursday, Mr Sunak said: "I've been very consistently clear, as have all ministers, if there are ways that the legislation can be improved, to be made even more effective - with a respectable legal argument and maintaining the participation of the Rwandans in the scheme - of course we would be open to that, who wouldn't be?"

Mr Sunak has refused to say how soon flights to Kigali will take off if he gets the legislation through the Commons and Lords, where it is also expected to face heavy scrutiny.

"I'm keen to crack on with it," is all he would say when asked about timings in an interview with The Spectator.

Right-wing Tory factions including the European Research Group (ERG) have threatened to vote down the Safety of Rwanda Bill unless it is hardened, including by denying asylum seekers individual appeals.

But this could risk losing the backing of more centrist Tories, who are keen to protect the legislation against breaches of international law.

Andrew Marr challenges Immigration Minister Tom Pursglove over the Rwanda plan

Mr Sunak also dismissed backbench objections as "debating society" behaviour but in a bid to pre-empt rebellion said that Rwanda will not take deportees who have no legal recourse to Strasbourg.

"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 said in his Spectator in interview.

"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."

On Wednesday, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk suggested the Government will not cave to pressure from the right of the Tory Party by watering down the Bill's commitment to international obligations.

The legislation seeks to enable Parliament to deem Rwanda "safe" generally but makes limited allowances for personal claims against being sent to the east African nation under a clause disliked by Conservative hardliners.

Mr Sunak has tried to find a middle ground with the Bill, which is designed to prevent migrants who arrive in Britain via unauthorised routes from challenging deportation, after the Supreme Court ruled the flagship policy unlawful.

It allows ministers to disapply the Human Rights Act, but does not go as far as overriding the European Convention on Human Rights, which MPs on the Conservative right have argued is necessary to get the grounded £290 million scheme running.

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