Rishi Sunak faces crunch vote as Rwanda plan dealt fresh blow by resignations of senior red-wall MPs Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith

Wednesday 17 January 2024

The fate of Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda plan is in the balance as a crunch vote looms after two Tory deputy chairmen resigned to join the biggest Conservative rebellion of his leadership.

The Prime Minister is battling to see off another major revolt on Wednesday as MPs decide whether to back legislation aimed at saving the Government’s flagship asylum policy.

Some 60 Conservatives supported changes to the Safety of Rwanda Bill put forward by Tory veteran Sir Bill Cash, in a sign of the scale of unease within the party during an election year.

MPs voted 529 to 68 to reject the amendment, which aimed to ensure UK and international law cannot be used to prevent or delay a person being removed to Rwanda.

But the scope of the revolt would be more than enough to sink the legislation and overturn the Government’s working majority if it were repeated at the Bill’s final Commons hurdle expected on Wednesday.

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However, no Conservatives voted against the Bill at second reading – despite similar warnings from the right of the party which had appeared to put it in jeopardy beforehand.

Speaking to TalkTV's Jeremy Kyle and Rosie Wright, former Tory MP Nick de Bois said: "It's bizarre to say the least that he has chosen this as a hill to die on.

"Rishi Sunak wanted to be judged on deliverables. He thought over a year ago that this including things like sorting out the back list on the NHS and the five pledges were going to prove that he got things done.

"Unfortunately, it has completely imploded on him, and the chances of him getting one single flight off to Rwanda are very, very slim.

"He had a bad day yesterday, but the idea that they will lose the third and most important vote tonight, is for the birds, I just don't think it's going to happen.

"I've sat through many rebellions myself, I've been part of rebellions myself, and to get this number to vote against the government on this scale, I think it's unachievable."

It comes after senior red-wall MPs Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith resigned from their party positions to vote in favour of changes tabled by Mr Cash and former immigration minister Robert Jenrick.

Jane Stevenson also quit her role as a parliamentary private secretary in the Department for Business and Trade to back the amendments, which MPs on the Tory right say will help protect the Rwanda plan from further legal challenge.

Former prime minister Liz Truss, former ministers Suella Braverman and Sir Simon Clarke and former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith were also among those to support the changes.

MPs Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith and parliamentary secretary Jane Stevenson have resigned

The stalled policy comes with a £290 million bill but no asylum seekers arriving via unauthorised routes have been relocated as yet following a series of challenges in the courts.

Several senior Tory figures have threatened to vote down the Bill if it is not changed before its third reading.

A Downing Street source said the PM accepted Mr Anderson and Mr Clarke-Smith’s resignations and reiterated that it believes the Bill was “the toughest legislation brought before Parliament to tackle illegal migration”.

Opposition critics accused the Prime Minister of weakness and said the resignations showed that “even senior Tories think that the Conservatives have failed”.