Rishi Sunak avoids damaging defeat as MPs back Rwanda bill - but he faces fresh revolt in New Year

12 December 2023, 19:33 | Updated: 12 December 2023, 20:15

The Bill passed with a majority of 44 votes.
The Bill passed with a majority of 44 votes. Picture: Parliament TV/Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

MPs have voted to back the Rwanda Bill as Rishi Sunak manages to quell a Tory rebellion at the first Commons hurdle with a majority of 44.

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There were 313 votes in favour of the legislation and 269 votes against it, meaning the Bill passed with a majority of 44.

Of the 312 votes in favour of the Bill, 307 were Conservatives MPs, while 187 of the 269 of the votes against the bill were from Labour. No Conservative MPs voted agains the bill. Five independent MPs, including Peter Bone, also voted for the bill.

A total of 38 Conservative MPs are listed as having no vote recorded, although this does not automatically equate to an abstention, including former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, former immigration minister Robert Jenrick and European Research Group (ERG) Chairman Mark Francois.

Eight Labour MPs are also thought to have abstained.

It comes after 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 vote means the bill will now progress to the next Commons stage in January, when they will debate amending the bill.

Celebrating the victory on Tuesday, 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."

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

A spokesman for Downing Street said: “Tonight the House has shown its support for the Prime Minister’s legislation to deem Rwanda safe and stop the boats.

“This bill is the toughest legislation ever introduced to parliament. It deems Rwanda safe notwithstanding any other interpretation of international law and it makes clear that this parliament, not any foreign court is sovereign.

“We will now work to ensure that this Bill gets on to the Statute book so that we can get flights off to Rwanda and stop the boats.”

Despite the vote outcome, this won’t be the final hurdle for the bill, as it is thought the PM said the legislation could be amended in future stages.

The ERG said ahead of the vote that they would vote down the bill in the new year if they fail to get the changes they want.

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

The vote comes after Mr Sunak met with MPs earlier on Tuesday to consider amendments to the bill after significant doubts were raised by party members.

After facing calls to pull the vote, Mr Sunak doubled down by making it clear he would not pull the proposed legislation.

The proposed law's passage through the Commons has been touted as a key test of Sunak's authority.

Former immigration minister Robert Jenrick took aim at the government before the vote, 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.

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.

Read more: Asylum seeker 'takes own life' on board Bibby Stockholm barge ahead of Rishi's crunch Rwanda vote

Read more: Rwanda crunch vote to go ahead after PM’s last-ditch talks to quell Tory revolt, as Robert Jenrick tears into bill

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

After Mr Sunak met with MPs on Tuesday morning in a last-ditch attempt to quell a Tory revolt, a No10 source said: "It was a very useful meeting to hear MPs thoughts and discuss their concerns.

"The bill has been drafted with close attention to detail, with colleagues input helping to shape the legislation”.

The group said nothing as they departed No10 after meeting with Rishi Sunak.

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 states.