Rishi Sunak faces Rwanda Bill jeopardy as Tory deputy chairmen back rebellion in bid to ‘toughen up’ legislation

16 January 2024, 01:21 | Updated: 16 January 2024, 01:25

Rishi Sunak's Rwanda Bill faces a Tory rebellion as it heads to debate for amendments on Tuesday.
Rishi Sunak's Rwanda Bill faces a Tory rebellion as it heads to debate for amendments on Tuesday. Picture: Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

The Prime Minister faces a rebellion from more than 60 Tory MPs as the Rwanda Bill is set to go to debate today.

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MPs will begin two days of debate over amendments to the bill on Tuesday.

However, two deputy Tory chairman announced their plans to rebel against the bill on Monday - putting Rishi Sunak’s plans to push the bill through parliament swiftly into potential jeopardy.

Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith revealed on Monday that they had signed rebel amendments to tough up the legislation.

Announcing his plans to rebel, Mr Clarke-Smith wrote on Monday: “When I was elected in 2019, I promised my constituents we would take back control. I want this legislation to be as strong as possible and therefore I will be supporting the Jenrick/Cash amendments. These are arguments I have consistently made and will continue to make.”

Lee Anderson wrote on X: “The Rwanda Bill. I have signed the Cash & Jenrick amendments. I will vote for them.”

They are among more than 60 rebel MPs sitting on the right side of the party who have backed measures to make it harder for migrants to challenge their deportation.

The amendments also want to see an immediate block to any Rule 39 injunctions of the flights by European judges.

The Rwanda Bill will go to debate on Tuesday.
The Rwanda Bill will go to debate on Tuesday. Picture: Alamy

Mr Sunak appeared to move towards his Rwanda critics on Monday in a seeming attempt to quell a rebellion, as he said that he would be prepared to ignore injunctions by European judges in Strasbourg if they attempted to ground flights.

Mr Sunak has not given such an explicit answer on whether he would ignore the injunctions before now.

He said: “I don’t think Strasbourg will intervene because of the checks and balances in our system, but of course, there will be individual circumstances that people will want us to consider on the facts.

“But if you’re asking me, are there circumstances in which I’m prepared to ignore those Rule 39s then yes, of course there are.”

Mr Clarke-Smith and Mr Anderson’s announcements of their intention to rebel, among other Tory MPs, means Mr Sunak must decide whether to dismiss the rebels from their posts.

But the prime minister declined to comment on Monday on whether Mr Anderson would be disciplined if rebelled.

The number of Tory rebels passed 60 on Monday evening, overpassing the prime minister’s 58 seat majority - meaning they could defeat the Government if they decide to vote down the bill at the third reading on Wednesday.

But the prime minister is reportedly determined to pass the bill through without amendments to prevent any further delays to the emergency legislation.

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Downing Street sources claimed on Monday that they will not accept any of the amendments from Tory rebels and that they would need to provide legal proof that such amendments would not breach international law.

Five former Cabinet ministers are among those threatening to turn down the Rwanda bill if the government does not agree to the amendments, according to The Telegraph.

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former business secretary, said he “would hope not to” vote the bill down if it went unamended, but would “be prepared to”.

While Sir Simon Clarke, a former levelling up secretary, said: “I very much hope that doesn’t happen. I have been clear with the whips that if the Bill goes forward unamended I will be unable to offer it my support.”

Former home secretary Suella Braverman and former immigration minister Robert Jenrick have also indicated they will vote against an unamended bill.

Meanwhile, four Cabinet ministers, Stephen Barclay, the Environment Secretary, Ms Badenoch and Mr Jenrick, have all reportedly urged the prime minister to toughen up the bill.

Mr Sunak defended the bill on Monday, as he said it already gave ministers the power to ignore Rule 39 injunctions.

However, Tory rebels have said that government legal advice means this power would only be used rarely.

Instead, they want it written into law that the injunctions will be ignored by default.

But Mr Sunak has warned right-wing rebel MPs that too many amendments could jeopardise the entire deal with Rwanda.

He said: “We might have all the ideas you want, but ultimately if that means Rwanda will stop participating in the scheme that is no good at all.

"Because a policy without anywhere to send people to is not a policy that is going to do anyone any good.”

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