Rishi faces Rwanda rebellion: PM risks Tory revolt as right wing's 'star chamber' lawyers say plan is not tough enough

10 December 2023, 10:07 | Updated: 10 December 2023, 11:19

Rishi Sunak is facing a Rwanda rebellion
Rishi Sunak is facing a Rwanda rebellion. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Rishi Sunak is facing a Tory rebellion over his Rwanda deal after lawyers hired by the right of the party believe it is not fit for purpose.

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But Michael Gove has insisted an election will not be called if the government suffers defeat.

While critics oppose the plans out of fears for migrants' human rights in the East African state, MPs on the Conservative right instead worry the plans would be vulnerable to challenges in the courts.

Illegal migrants could keep holding up the plans through legal cases, they fear, and now their so-called "star chamber" of lawyers has rejected it, saying it is not watertight enough.

With opposition parties expected to oppose it on Tuesday, it leaves Mr Sunak facing a damaging defeat on his plans if enough rebels vote against him.

Just 29 would need to oppose the legislation, uniting with Labour to kill this version of the plan off.

Read more: Rwanda scheme has '50% chance of succeeding', as LBC reveals money from £290m plan could have slashed backlog

Mr Sunak has insisted the plan will work, though he was not prepared to call Tuesday's vote an effective motion of confidence in his government.

"We've got to finish the job and I'm going to see this thing through," he said last week.

"I'm confident I can get this thing done."

He added: "This Bill blocks every single reason that has ever been used to prevent flights to Rwanda from taking off.

"The only extremely narrow exception will be if you can prove with credible and compelling evidence that you specifically have a real and imminent risk of serious and irreversible harm."

Read more: Rwanda ‘laughing all the way to the bank’ as £290m cost of scheme could have paid for 400,000 asylum claims

The draft bill he wants to pass tells judges Rwanda is a safe country, after the Supreme Court agreed there was too much of a risk that migrants sent to claim asylum there could simply be sent back to their original country, leaving them at risk of persecution.

A new treaty has also been signed with Kigali to beef up how migrants will be processed there.

However, hardliners are disappointed the bill does not allow for the European Convention on Human Rights to be ignored.

Suella Braverman, the sacked home secretary, has demanded that.

And Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister considered to be one of the architects behind the recent clampdown on legal migration, quit in protest that the new scheme still didn't go far enough.

Tories on the right of the party fear that they will be destroyed in an election if they can't get the Rwanda scheme passed, especially with the threat of the Reform Party looming large in their minds.

The last time a government lost a vote on legislation this early in the process, at the second reading of a bill, was in 1986.

It would seriously undermine an increasingly embattled Mr Sunak.

But Mr Gove, the housing secretary, has insisted an early election will not be called if the government suffers a defeat.

"No, we're not contemplating that because I'm confident that when people look at the legislation and have a chance to reflect they will recognise this is a tough but also proportionate measure," he told Sky News on Sunday.