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From take-off to crash landing: The six possible outcomes for Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda Bill

Rishi Sunak is facing the tough week of his political career
Rishi Sunak is facing the tough week of his political career - MARIA UNGER/AFP

Rishi Sunak is facing six possible scenarios ranging from his Rwanda Bill becoming law to a humiliating defeat this week in what will be the biggest test of his premiership to date.

Backbench Conservative MPs on opposing wings of the party have already raised their objections to Mr Sunak’s legislation, which is intended to prevent any further legal challenges and ensure migrant deportation flights can go ahead.

A working government majority of 56 means that 29 MPs would need to vote against the legislation, or 57 would have to abstain, in order for it to be defeated at its second reading stage.

1 – Instant defeat (worst-case scenario)

The Bill is to be put before the Commons on Tuesday and the first – and worst-case – scenario would involve its instant defeat by Tory rebels.

Most MPs have privately indicated they are prepared to support the Bill at its current stage because the second reading is focused more on the principle of the legislation that is being proposed rather than the finer details.

If enough MPs defy Mr Sunak, however, an instant defeat would deal a crushing blow to his premiership, and raise questions about whether he can lead the party into a general election.

2 – Delayed defeat

If approved, the Bill would then return to the Commons for its third reading in the new year. At this point, the second scenario would involve a defeat if Mr Sunak was unable to reconcile the opposing demands of those concerned that the bill either goes too far or not far enough.

3 – Concessions appease rebels

In a third scenario, Mr Sunak gets the law through the Commons. In turn, this could happen as a result of a number of concessions made to appease his restive backbenchers or as a result of a successful push to convince Tory MPs to back his plan so as to not collapse the Rwanda policy altogether.

4 – Deadlock in Lords

After clearing the Commons, the legislation would need to go through the Lords – and it is at this point that unwelcome memories of the Brexit deadlock could rear their head.

In a similar way to how Theresa May’s Article 50 bill was defeated by peers back in 2017, the Lords could either reject or heavily amend the Rwanda Bill, resulting in parliamentary “ping-pong” that would see the legislation bounce between the two chambers.

At this point, some in Tory ranks would likely urge Mr Sunak to call a general election in order to make a democratic case for his plans to cut illegal immigration

5 – Approval, assent, take-off

A fifth scenario would see the Lords accept the legislation without a hitch, in which case it would receive Royal Assent and become law.

At this point, deportation flights would begin almost immediately, with the Rwanda scheme a tenet of the Government’s migration policy in what would be a clear dividing line between the Tories and Labour, which opposes the scheme, ahead of a 2024 general election.

6 – More legal challenges

In a sixth scenario, however, the scheme is given the go-ahead but ultimately does not prove successful as it is bogged down by further legal challenges in much the same way as previous legislation aimed at delivering the policy has been delayed.

Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, has already spoken to this possibility as she warned Mr Sunak the plan in its current form “won’t work”.

But Lord Sumption, a former supreme court judge, offered a more optimistic perspective this month.

He has said he believes the legislation will work on the basis that “the courts will do what they are told to do … if they’re told what to do in sufficiently clear terms”, praising the bill as “pretty clear”.

For all the heat and light in Westminster in recent days, the Rwanda Bill clearing the Commons on Tuesday is believed to be both the most likely outcome and just the start of what could be a months-long process that will continue to test the scale of Mr Sunak’s political authority.

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