Rishi Sunak's Rwanda woes are far from over as he faces Lords challenge and Tory critics circle

18 January 2024, 18:32 | Updated: 19 January 2024, 07:48

Rishi Sunak still faces a big fight over Rwanda
Rishi Sunak still faces a big fight over Rwanda. Picture: Alamy
Natasha Clark

By Natasha Clark

Rishi Sunak's Rwanda woes are far from over.

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Yes, the first stage of the Commons clash is now done, and after much public flapping, the rebels all folded.

The Government won last night's vote comfortably, and will feel a small boost by sending it off to the House of Lords, unamended.

That will be short-lived as the Lords gears up to try and rip it to pieces.

One Government official told me this week: "God only knows what they will try to do it now."

LBC hears that the Government will, as expected, put the foot on the gas to push it through as quickly as possible to give them the best chance of having time for the policy to actually take off, so to speak.

The bill will face pressure from Peers – spying a policy not actually in the Tory manifesto and thus more vulnerable – to try and heavily water it down.

Read more: 'I didn't mix anything up at all': Thérèse Coffey defends criticism after Rwanda gaffe in Commons debate

Conversations have already started about what that looks like and where to best target those attacks.

But the PM will be aware that confidence in his leadership is still wobbly.

I reported today how several Tory MPs are said to have put letters of no confidence in the PM in following the saga over the last 48 hours of votes.

Some, I'm told, finally put them in after holding off at the end of last year, hopeful that the prime minister would listen to their concerns and tweak the law.

They feel led up the garden path, looking silly.

The idea, which is currently on the fringes of the Conservative party, that they may have one final crack to change leader before the election, if the polls stay this dire, will look more attractive as the year goes on and MPs start to stare defeat in the face.

Read more: Rishi Sunak warns Lords not to 'frustrate will of the people' over Rwanda plan as he brushes off no confidence votes

Time is running out for Sunak to shift the polls, which are still sticking so far behind Labour, seemingly no matter what they do.

Even the New Year tax cuts have failed to deliver the intended effect.

Will the Budget have any further success? It will have to be 'big bang' to have a chance.

There's just not the spare cash in the Treasury coffers to do that.

Meanwhile, the ongoing criticism of the Rwanda policy's climbing cost will go on too.

I asked the prime minister today if he would ask the Rwandans for a refund if no flights ever take off.

Unsurprisingly, he dodged the question, and insisted he was "fighting every day" to get the flights off in the first place.

But the mounting bill for a policy which has so far sent no one to Rwanda will only pile further pressure on.

As a former Chancellor, he will be eyeing that closely – especially when he wants any spare pennies to make those much-desired tax cuts in just a few weeks.

For Downing Street, however, there will surely be serious concerns about the strength of rebellion we saw earlier this week.

That 58 Tory MPs were prepared to defy the government should really worry those surrounding the prime minister.

Their whipping operation was better, they were more organised, and their media operation was strong.

They will be prepared to move again, and No10 must be ready for the next round, or risk a knock out blow.