Sunak risks Commons revolt unless he toughens up Rwanda Bill

Rishi Sunak at Stop the boats lecturn
Rishi Sunak at Stop the boats lecturn

Rishi Sunak will come under pressure to toughen up his flagship Rwanda Bill or face the prospect of it being killed off by his MPs in a Commons revolt.

The Prime Minister will be told by a “star chamber” of Conservative lawyers on Monday that the Rwanda Bill will not get deportation flights off the ground unless it is toughened significantly.

The panel is expected to demand changes to further curb the right of individual migrants who arrived in the UK illegally to appeal, and to impose a blanket block on interventions by Strasbourg judges that stop flights taking off.

Their findings will reinforce pleas by Tory MPs for Mr Sunak to agree to consider changes to the Bill in exchange for their support at a crunch vote when it comes before the Commons on Tuesday for its second reading.

Mr Sunak has previously said the Bill is the only approach and going a further “inch” would raise the risk of Rwanda quitting the scheme. But on Sunday Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, hinted at compromise for the first time, saying the Government would “consider thoughtful suggestions” about how the Bill could be “improved”.

Monday’s vote represents the biggest test of Mr Sunak’s premiership.

Only 29 Tory MPs need to vote against it, or 57 abstain, for the Prime Minister to lose as the opposition parties will vote against. The last time a government lost a second reading vote was in 1986.

Fears of confidence crisis

Most Tory MPs contacted by The Telegraph said they would back the Bill rather than trigger a confidence crisis for the Prime Minister, and would instead seek amendments in the New Year when it returns to the Commons. But a significant minority are threatening to abstain or vote against unless Mr Sunak agrees to consider amendments.

Tories on the Right have indicated that they would be willing to accept a commitment to be open to amendments at a later stage, without specific proposals being laid in Parliament on Tuesday.

On Sunday, Robert Jenrick, the former immigration minister, said he could not support the Bill without changes, repeating his warning that the scheme would be “bogged down” in the courts unless the Government blocked all avenues of legal claims by illegal migrants.

As many as 50 more Tory MPs on the Right of the party are said to want changes to the legislation and will use the “star chamber” findings as ammunition to push for amendments to the Bill.

The findings of the four-strong panel, chaired by the veteran Brexiteer MP Sir Bill Cash, will be published at a noon meeting on Monday chaired by Mark Francois, who heads up the European Research Group (ERG). They are likely also to be backed by the New Conservatives and Common Sense groups of MPs.

The Telegraph understands that it will demand a legal provision to ensure ministers must ignore any Rule 39 injunctions by Strasbourg judges, which were used to ground the first Rwanda flight in June 2022. At present, the Bill proposes it will be a discretionary power. However, legal advice given to the Government says that ignoring an injunction would be in breach of international law.

Right to appeal

The Bill states that Rwanda is a safe country and disapplies large parts of the Human Rights Act, but under section four of the proposed legislation, migrants have the right to appeal on an individual basis if they can prove that being sent to Rwanda would put them at risk of “serious and irreversible harm”.

“Section four of the Bill seems to be driving a coach and horses through it,” said a former cabinet minister. “The problem is that it is inviting people to make a claim.”

The “star chamber” is expected to propose that Mr Sunak should go further and curtail – if not block – rights to individual challenge.

Mr Sunak is also facing a potential backlash from the centrist One Nation group of MPs, which is said to be “uneasy” about the way the Bill overrides the verdict of the Supreme Court that Rwanda was unsafe for asylum seekers.

The group, chaired by former de facto deputy prime minister Damian Green, is expected to follow the “star chamber” by announcing its verdict on the Bill on Monday evening after consulting the Tory peer Lord Garnier, a former solicitor general.

On Sunday, Lord Garnier said that if he was in the Commons, “I would not vote in support of the Bill.” He compared the Bill’s declaration that Rwanda was safe to deciding that “all dogs are cats”. He also expressed concern over the decision to give ministers “unchallengeable” powers to ignore ECHR injunctions.

One senior One Nation MP said on Sunday: “I will abstain. I won’t be voting for something that tries to determine fact, especially ‘facts’ that are untrue.”

Mr Sunak has insisted that the number of successful claims against deportation will be “vanishingly” small because the threshold of serious and irreversible harm for allowing appeals is so narrow.

Ministers are set to circulate a Home Office analysis which says 99.5 per cent of claims will fail under the Rwanda plan

Mr Sunak has warned the entire Rwanda scheme will collapse if he goes further, after the Rwandan Government warned it would withdraw if there was any breach of international law. He was backed On Sunday by four senior KCs including Sir Geoffrey Cox, a former attorney general, in an open letter.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “We are talking to colleagues, but we are confident this Bill is extremely robust and makes the routes for any individual challenge vanishingly small. This is the strongest possible piece of legislation to get Rwanda operational.”

However, one former Cabinet minister said the Bill would not work and compared it to Lord Cameron’s failed attempts to renegotiate British membership of the European Union and Theresa May’s doomed Brexit deal.

“If you don’t like the Bill, you have to vote it down at second reading – via abstentions or voting against, but I think that’s the only opportunity to kill this completely useless piece of legislation,” they said.

Mr Jenrick said the Bill could be fixed but warned it was “three strikes and out” on stopping the boats for the Government, given it had already brought forward two acts on illegal migration.

“I want this Bill to work and create that powerful deterrent. I’m afraid it’s very clear to all those people who really understand how this system operates, that this Bill will not succeed,” he said.


These are the four Tory tribes that could hold Mr Sunak’s future in their hands. What Rwanda concessions does each want?

European Research Group

European Research Group
European Research Group

Key figures (L to R): Lord Frost, Suella Braverman, Dame Priti Patel
Leader: Mark Francois
Number of members: Around 40

Demands: The European Research Group is pushing for Rishi Sunak to toughen up the Rwanda plan as they believe it is not sufficiently “watertight” in its current form to avoid protracted legal challenges.

The group convened a so-called star chamber of Tory lawyers, which had also cast judgment on Theresa May and Boris Johnson’s Brexit deals, to decide whether Mr Sunak’s legislation was fit for the purpose.

They insist that he must make sure to legislate in “clear and unambiguous” language to ensure that Parliament is able to override foreign courts and disapply international treaties that the UK has signed in order to ensure the Rwanda plan can work.

One Nation Conservatives

One Nation Conservatives
One Nation Conservatives

Key Figures: Tom Tugendhat, Gillian Keegan, Caroline Nokes
Leader: Damian Green
Number of members: 106 (self declared)

Demands: The One Nation Group has made clear its concerns about the Rwanda scheme for very different reasons from their colleagues on the Right of the party.

They have insisted Mr Sunak’s legislation must stick to existing domestic and international human rights commitments, with as many as 10 centrist ministers last week reported to have been on resignation watch over the law.

Damian Green, a former deputy prime minister and the chairman of the One Nation group, said last week: “The Government should think twice before overriding both the ECHR and Human Rights Act and not rush such long-term, difficult decisions.”

New Conservatives

New Conservatives
New Conservatives

Key figures: Eddie Hughes, Paul Bristow, Marco Longhi
Leaders: Danny Kruger, Miriam Cates
Number of members: 35

Demands: Formed mostly of MPs elected to Parliament since 2015, particularly those representing Red Wall seats that voted Tory for the first time at the last general election, the New Conservatives are putting pressure on Rishi Sunak to fulfil his manifesto pledge to cut legal migration to pre-2019 levels while also making sure to stop the boats.

On Sunday, Danny Kruger and Miriam Cates – the leaders of the caucus – insisted there was “no point uniting around a policy that doesn’t work” as they criticised Mr Sunak’s proposed Rwanda law in an op-ed for The Sun.

“We must keep our promise to the British public to stop – not just reduce – the boats,” they added. “The alternative is the unity of the tomb.”

Common Sense Group

Common Sense Group
Common Sense Group

Key figures: Brendan Clarke-Smith, Lee Anderson, Jonathan Gullis
Leader: Sir John Hayes
Number of members: Around 30

Demands: Sir John, the leader of the Common Sense Group caucus and a close ally of the now-former home secretary Suella Braverman, has long argued for the need to both stop illegal immigration and reduce legal migration.

Sir John is known to have wanted the toughest possible “full fat” version of the Rwanda Bill, which would remove the right of judicial review and include “notwithstanding clauses” allowing ministers to ignore not only the HRA but also the European Convention on Human Rights on asylum.

Sir John, a veteran of the Tory back benches, had orchestrated a letter urging Mr Sunak not to sack Mrs Braverman, who last week declared that the new law proposed by Mr Sunak will not work.

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