Up to 70 Tory rebels could abstain or back amendments to Rwanda bill


Conservative rebels have said as many as 70 MPs could back amendments or abstain from supporting Rishi Sunak’s flagship Rwanda bill, telling the prime minister he will have “nowhere to go” if he does not toughen up the legislation.

A leading figure on the right wing of the party said at least three junior ministers and six Tories on the payroll, including a vice-chair of the party, had already informed the whips they were “sympathetic” to the amendments.

Reports suggested Lee Anderson, vice-chair of the party, could be one of the “six Conservatives on the payroll” ready to support the amendments, which have so far been backed by 56 MPs. They include Robert Jenrick, Suella Braverman, Iain Duncan Smith, Liz Truss, John Redwood, Jake Berry, David Jones, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Simon Clarke.

Anderson, the MP for Ashfield, has told colleagues he is supportive of the rebels’ attempts to toughen up the legislation and said he intended to vote for them this week, the Telegraph reported, while the Times said that Kemi Badenoch, the business secretary, told Sunak the legislation does not go far enough and that it needs to be hardened.

The Rwanda bill, which is at the centre of Sunak’s plan to stop small boat crossings, will return to the Commons on Tuesday for a series of votes. MPs on the right of the party believe the bill does not go far enough in stopping interference by international courts in government attempts to deport asylum-seekers to the central African country.

Not including abstentions that would push rebel numbers up to 70, Conservative sources believe they could topple the Rwanda bill at its third reading on Wednesday.

John Hayes, leader of the Common Sense group, Mark Francois of the European Research group and Danny Kruger of the New Conservatives said on Sunday they had abstained at the first vote on the bill before Christmas because Sunak promised he was prepared to “tighten” the bill, adding: “We took him at his word.”

But telling the prime minister how bad things could get if he fails to toughen up the bill, Hayes told the Guardian: “If the prime minister resists this per se, without any kind of concession at all, and then this policy doesn’t work and we end up where we think we will, ie that we’ll be blocked in the courts, then he’ll have nowhere to go then.

“It’s about means not ends. On that basis we’re all aiming for the same thing. There’s no real clash of view. It’s a debate about the significance and nuance and in this case the significance really matters.”

The prime minister has already argued that moving a further “inch” on the Rwanda bill would risk Rwanda quitting the deal.

More moderate Tories in the One Nation group could also oppose any changes that threaten international law.

Labour will not back any of the rightwing amendments, meaning the Tory rebels’ only real chance to scupper the legislation would be to vote against it entirely.

The former justice secretary Robert Buckland has said he will not vote for the bill this week if amendments to the legislation pass. He told Times Radio: “I think the bill goes as far as it can – perhaps a little bit further for my taste to work within the rule of law.

“I think the more you try and use exceptional arguments that this is an exceptional case, we start to erode the mutual respect that needs to exist between parliament and our court system and undermine the fabric of our constitution.”