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

12 December 2023, 17:19 | Updated: 12 December 2023, 17:27

MPs are preparing to vote on the Rwanda Bill this evening after Rushi Sunak made last-ditch efforts to quell a Tory revolt.
MPs are preparing to vote on the Rwanda Bill this evening after Rushi Sunak made last-ditch efforts to quell a Tory revolt. Picture: Alamy

By Christian Oliver

MPs are preparing to vote on the Rwanda Bill this evening after Rushi Sunak made last-ditch efforts to quell a Tory revolt.

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The prime minister has spent the day meeting with Conservative MPs to persuade them to support the bill and doubled down by making it clear he would not pull the proposed legislation before this evening's vote at 7pm.

But Robert Jenrick, who, until last week, was the immigration minister, took aim at the government, calling the bill 'flawed' and accusing it of "sophistry".

Jenrick suggested the government was deceiving MPs as they may not empower ministers to ignore attempts from Strasbourg to block flights carrying asylum seekers. In 2022, the Strasbourg court granted an injunction, via Rule 39, which effectively grounded a flight sending asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda.

The proposed law's passage through the Commons this evening has been touted as a key test of Sunak's authority, and, with Mr Jenrick having resigned over the issue, the former immigration minister's impassioned verdict has the potential to influence his colleagues.

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 this evening, dubbing it 'unsatisfactory' before confirming he would not vote with the government.

Former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick is seen outside BBC as he appears on Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg show. Credit: ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Live News
Former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick is seen outside BBC as he appears on Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg show. Credit: ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Live News. Picture: Alamy

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

Read More: Rishi stares down Rwanda rebels: PM tells Tory hardliners he wont pull controversial bill in last-ditch No10 talks

Writing in the Telegraph alongside his co-chair Miriam Kates, Kruger wrote that the bill "makes some important steps forward in addressing the issues raised by the Supreme Court" but "fails to establish the sovereignty of the United Kingdom parliament over immigration policy".

It is however unclear whether the other members of the 25-strong group would follow Kates and Kruger - but it is likely their influence will have a major impact on their position and further put the bill's passage in doubt.

It is thought at least 40 Conservative MPs could either abstain or vote against the government's bill. Just 29 Conservative MPs need to vote against - or 57 need to abstain - to defeat the government's bill.

Suggesting the extent of the government's concern over the passage of the bill, the climate minister has this evening left the Cop28 conference in Dubai during the critical last stage negotiations to vote. Graham Stuart will then fly straight back.

Elsewhere in the debate this afternoon, Sir Bob Neill, the Conservative chairman of the Commons' justice committee, said he would vote for the Bill but would not support it in future if changes from the Tory right were accepted.

Conservative former attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox also advised colleagues that the Bill would "collapse" if they removed the right of individuals to access a court.

Conservative MPs Jill Mortimer, Jonathan Gullis, Marco Longhi, Danny Kruger, and Miriam Cates, leaving Downing Street
Conservative MPs Jill Mortimer, Jonathan Gullis, Marco Longhi, Danny Kruger, and Miriam Cates, leaving Downing Street. Picture: Alamy

It comes after Sunak earlier this morning met with MPs to consider amendments to the bill after significant doubts were raised by party members. However, it is understood the overall framework of the legislation would have to remain unchanged.

A No10 source said earlier: "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.

None of them answered when asked by reporters if they had been persuaded. The group left together just after 8.30am.

Conservative MPs Jill Mortimer, Jonathan Gullis, Marco Longhi, Danny Kruger, and Miriam Cates, were seen leaving Downing Street following the breakfast meeting.

The result of tonight’s Rwanda Bill vote in the House of Commons is hanging in the balance. It is currently unclear whether a majority of MPs will back it.

Rishi Sunak pictured leaving the Covid Inquiry yesterday
Rishi Sunak pictured leaving the Covid Inquiry yesterday. Picture: Alamy

Read more: Tory right-wing ERG reject government's Rwanda plan - claiming Sunak's bill does not go far enough

Read more: Tory ERG are 'playing with Brexit fire' over proposed amends to Rwanda migration bill, warns former party chairman

Read more: 'Scrap Rwanda Bill and start again': Tory ERG calls on Sunak to come up with new migrant plan ahead of tomorrow's vote

Around 20 members of the New Conservatives had breakfast with the PM at No10 as he attempts to win over party colleagues and avoid a defeat at the second reading of the Rwanda Bill.

The grouping of mostly 2019 MPs warned on Monday, after a meeting at the office of backbencher Danny Kruger and attended by former ministers Robert Jenrick and Suella Braverman, that the Bill "needs major surgery or replacement".

None of them answered when asked by reporters if they had been persuaded. The group left together just after 8.30am.

Conservative MPs Jill Mortimer, Jonathan Gullis, Marco Longhi, Danny Kruger, and Miriam Cates, were seen leaving Downing Street following the breakfast meeting.

The result of tonight’s Rwanda Bill vote in the House of Commons is hanging in the balance. It is currently unclear whether a majority of MPs will back it.

But despite a potential rebellion, Mr Sunak has received a boost from One Nation Tory MPs, with the group of around 100 having confirmed they will back the Bill.

A revolt by 29 Conservative MPs voting against could be enough to defeat the Safety of Rwanda Bill at second reading.

Former Defence Secretary Ben Wallace earlier called on rebels to not wreck the government over the Rwanda scheme.

He described immigration as a “Rubik’s cube of a problem” as he urged colleagues to not “make the perfect (but unrealistic) the enemy of the good”.

"Before anyone in my party thinks the solution to this Rubik’s cube is to wreck the Government, perhaps we should calmly state that we are heading in the right direction and making progress," he wrote in the Telegraph.

He addressed returns or co-operation deals signed with France, Bulgaria, Turkey, Italy and Georgia before coming to the Rwanda deal.

"Yes, we lost before the courts, but just like any government before us, we have addressed the issues and I am confident that, as long as Labour doesn’t use the unelected House of Lords to derail the scheme, there is a good chance the return programme will progress," he said.

“Conservative MPs must not let Keir Starmer off the hook by turning [Tuesday’s] vote into an exercise of making the perfect (but unrealistic) the enemy of the good. Strong deterrence has to be built brick by brick.”

Chair of the ICC UK can't understand why Rwanda has dominated the news.

It comes after former Tory chairman David Davis told LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr, that the European Research Group (ERG), and those on the right of the Tory Party, who want to undermine the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) were "playing with Brexit fire" and risked "destroying Brexit" over proposed amends to the Bill.

He said he was "not sure why they’re doing it, unless they’re being encouraged by people who have other interests".

"They're playing with Brexit fire, they're destroying Brexit," Mr Davis said.

"These are nearly all Brexiteers… Look these are old mates of mine... I'm not sure quite why they're doing it, unless they're being encouraged by people who have other interests."

Read more: Tory right-wing ERG reject government's Rwanda plan - claiming Sunak's bill does not go far enough

David Davis tells Andrew Marr how Rwanda legislation may jeopardise Brexit

Mr Davis went on to explain how undermining the ECHR would destroy the Good Friday Agreement.

"It doesn't automatically destroy Brexit, but it does pretty much automatically destroy the Good Friday Agreement," Mr Davis said.

"The Good Friday Agreement, if you read through it has a whole load of clauses which are based on the European Convention on Human Rights, it's fundamental.

"So, if you destroy your support for that, then you destroy that. It gives pretty much an automatic right to the European Union to pull the plug on everything else if they want to because there are enough clauses in the TCA to do that."

It comes after Chairman of the ERG, Mark Francois, said the Rwanda scheme - which would see asylum seekers arriving in the UK by small boats deported to Rwanda - had 'too many holes' as he urged the government to pull the proposed legislation.

"The Government would be best advised to pull the Bill and come up with a revised version that works better than this one," Mr Francois said outside Portcullis House in Westminster.

"There have been two legislative attempts at this already, the Nationalities and Borders Act - that didn't quite work - the Illegal Immigration Act - that didn't quite work," Francois continued.

"So this is, kind of, three strikes and you're out, isn't it?"If we're going to put a Bill through Parliament, to have a piece of legislation which is fit for purpose. As the Bill is currently drafted, it isn't."

He did not say whether he had confidence in the PM ahead of the Commons vote.

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.

The letter from the ERG's legal advisers says Sunak is correct in calling the Bill the "toughest piece of migration legislation ever put forward by the UK government".

But the right-wing group says they "do not believe that it goes far enough to deliver the policy as intended".

ERG chairman says Rwanda Bill in its current form is ‘not fit for purpose’

Meanwhile, following a meeting on Monday evening, One Nation MPs said they were recommending members vote for the Safety of Rwanda Bill at its Second Reading.

But the group said it remained concerned about any future amendments that would mean breaching the rule of law and its international obligations, and would oppose such amendments.

Chairman Damian Green said: "We have taken the decision that the most important thing at this stage is to support the Bill despite our real concerns.

"We strongly urge the Government to stand firm against any attempt to amend the Bill in a way that would make it unacceptable to those who believe that support for the rule of law is a basic Conservative principle."

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