Sunak battling to quell revolt as Jenrick pushes for Rwanda Bill changes

Former immigration minister Robert Jenrick said it was ‘the last opportunity’ to get the Rwanda plan right.

Robert Jenrick is pushing for changes to Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda Bill
Robert Jenrick is pushing for changes to Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda Bill (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Rishi Sunak is facing a Tory revolt over his flagship Rwanda plan, with senior Conservatives including former prime ministers and deputy chairmen of the party demanding changes.

Former prime minister Boris Johnson has offered his support to more than 60 right-wing MPs backing amendments they claim will beef up the Safety of Rwanda Bill by restricting individuals’ ability to challenge being sent to the African nation and overriding international law.

Tory deputy chairmen Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith are putting their party posts at risk by backing changes to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill.

They were joined by Jane Stevenson, a parliamentary private secretary in the Department for Business and Trade, who confirmed she would vote for the amendments, saying “I’m going to turn my fire” on Mr Sunak and that he “should get a move on” on stopping small boat crossings.

Former prime minister Liz Truss and ex-home secretary Suella Braverman are also backing the campaign to rewrite the legislation which is being led by Robert Jenrick, who quit as immigration minister over Mr Sunak’s approach.

But any attempt by the Prime Minister to placate them would be opposed by more moderate Tories, who want to ensure international law is respected.

It comes as the United Nations high commissioner for refugees said that, even unamended, the Bill and recently signed treaty with Kigali would still violate global refugee law.

Under the Government’s plan, migrants who cross the English Channel on small boats could be sent on a one-way trip to Rwanda rather than being allowed to try to seek asylum in the UK.

The legislation and the treaty are intended to make the Government’s plan legally watertight following a Supreme Court ruling against it last year.

Mr Johnson, while no longer an MP, is still an influential voice in Tory circles – particularly with Mr Sunak’s critics.

He said: “This Bill must be as legally robust as possible – and the right course is to adopt the amendments.”

In the Commons, Mr Jenrick said the amendments from the Tory right tabled by him and veteran MP Sir Bill Cash “represent the last opportunity for us to get this policy right”.

He said that without changes, the “legally flawed” Bill still left loopholes open which would allow migrants to claim Rwanda was not safe for them as an individual.

Ex-immigration minister Robert Jenrick warned the Tories face election defeat unless the Government strengthens the Rwanda Bill
Ex-immigration minister Robert Jenrick warned the Tories face election defeat unless the Government strengthens the Rwanda Bill (Yui Mok/PA)

“As night follows day, every migrant will say Rwanda may be generally safe – and I believe it is – but it is not safe for me. That is one of the central intellectual incoherences, as the Government’s own lawyers have said, at the heart of this Bill.”

Ms Stevenson, confirming her intent to defy the Government, said: “I want it (the Bill) to be as robust as it possibly can be, because we need it to be fit for the crisis that we face.”

The amendments are unlikely to pass, with Labour opposed to the legislation and set to resist any attempts to make it more hardline, but they will give an indication of the scale of unease within the Tory parliamentary party in an election year.

Even if dozens of his MPs rebel to back amendments, Mr Sunak will still be confident that Tories will eventually get behind the Bill as a whole at its final Commons hurdle – the third reading – which is due on Wednesday.

But some senior figures have said they will vote down the legislation if it is not changed.

Former Cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke said he was not “f****** around” and declared: “I will vote against if the legislation isn’t amended. Simple as that.”

Around 40 Tory MPs, including former ministers Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, Mrs Braverman and Mr Clarke, former leader Iain Duncan Smith and New Conservatives co-chairman Danny Kruger agreed their intention to back the amendments on Tuesday.

Following the meeting in Parliament, a rebel source said: “The Government are continuing to negotiate. I think the hope of those in the room is that the Government will see today the strength of numbers and the strength of feeling.”

“They warned it would be “sad and politically damaging” for Mr Anderson to be sacked as deputy chairman over his support for the changes, describing him as “one of its most prominent and visible representatives of the red wall”.

Touring broadcast studios on Tuesday, Cabinet ministers Michael Gove and Mel Stride sought to play down Tory divisions.

Levelling Up Secretary Mr Gove said he was “pretty sure” Mr Anderson would still be in post at the next election.

“I think we might be getting ahead of ourselves because I think that, and Lee is a friend and I’m a big admirer of his, the concerns that Lee has about the Bill are the concerns that the country has about migration more broadly,” he told Times Radio.

Work and Pensions Secretary Mr Stride declined to be drawn on whether the Tory deputy chairmen could face the sack.

He told LBC: “We all know that there are very few Bills – very, very few Bills – that go through straight and clean and nobody tries to amend them in any way at all.

“What matters is that the Bill progresses in a form that leaves it effective at the end and I’m confident we’re going to do that.”

The Government has announced plans to draft in around 150 judges and free up courtrooms in order to deal with migrant appeals.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said that while the Rwanda Bill would ensure the bar for legal challenges is “set extremely high”, it is “also right to ensure that we have the resources to deal with the minority of claims should they arise”.

Miriam Cates, a prominent right-wing MP, said she would also be prepared to vote against the Bill if it was unamended, and appeared unmoved by the Prime Minister’s latest plan.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Well, I’m afraid all that shows is that the Government is expecting a large number of individual claims.”