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Sunak in stand-off with Tory rebels on Rwanda plan

Rishi Sunak is locked in a tense stand-off with Conservative MPs after they called on him to abandon his new law designed to ensure migrants can be sent to Rwanda.

Right-wing backbenchers argued that the legislation was not strong enough to stop the courts from blocking any further deportation flights.

They suggested they may vote against the bill when it reaches the Commons today – raising the prospect of a humiliating defeat for the Prime Minister, or his scrapping the vote altogether so the law can be toughened further.

One ex-minister even warned it was feeling like the ‘final days’ for the government, amid mounting pressure on a number of fronts.

Mr Sunak did receive a boost yesterday when the centrist “One Nation” caucus of MPs agreed to back the Safety of Rwanda Bill despite its measures overriding human rights laws in some areas.

But if 29 MPs on the right join the Opposition in voting against the bill it will not proceed any further and the Prime Minister will have to rip up his plans to force the Rwanda policy through the courts.

The Government has repeatedly argued that the legislation will be effective in overcoming the objections previously raised by judges, and that going any further would risk collapsing the deal with the Rwandan government entirely.

Ministers published a summary of legal advice claiming that the bill would “demonstrate Rwanda is safe for relocated individuals”, even though it does not entirely remove the right of migrants to appeal against deportation as some on the right have called for. They were backed by two separate memos from the Society of Conservative Lawyers and the centre-right Policy Exchange think-tank.

But a so-called “star chamber” of legal advisers to the pro-Brexit European Research Group said that the legislation was insufficient, concluding: “We do not believe that it goes far enough to deliver the policy as intended.”

ERG chair Mark Francois said: “The Government would be best advised to pull the bill and come up with a revised version that works better than this one which has so many holes in it.”

One Tory rebel told i: “The bill is unworkable in its current form and needs radical change, the Government is going to have to give way.” Another insisted that “there are good legal arguments for blocking off individual claims” from migrants in the bill, adding: “It’s open to Parliament to block or restrict individual legal challenges, and the courts will uphold this.”

A former Cabinet minister added: “The whole party is in deep trouble, so this just adds to the sense of ‘final days’.”

If Tuesday’s “second reading” vote on the principles behind the bill is approved, MPs and the House of Lords will then debate possible amendments over the coming weeks. Right-wingers fear that they will be unable to pass amendments making the legislation more hardline because they will not attract support from Labour or the other Opposition parties.

Whitehall insiders warned that even if Mr Sunak wins the vote, he will face repeated showdowns with his own party in the new year. One veteran Conservative MP said: “Whether it gets through this week or not, it does mean that after Christmas it is going to be bloody hard and there will be a threat from the left as much as from the right.”

Robert Jenrick, the former Immigration Minister who resigned in protest at the Safety of Rwanda Bill because he does not think it is tough enough, accused ministers of making misleading arguments about the effects of the new legislation.

Legal advice leaked to the press suggested that only one in 200 people sent to Rwanda would be able to lodge an appeal which would delay their deportation while a court considers whether it would breach their human right.

But Mr Jenrick argued that the numbers would be far higher, saying on X/Twitter: “If individual claims are permitted everyone will make one, the court backlog will balloon, our detention capacity will become overwhelmed within days, people will be bailed, and new arrivals will simply abscond. The proposed bill is both legally and operationally fundamentally flawed.”

He added: “Even on its own optimistic terms, it’ll take months to remove illegal arrivals. But unless people are removed in days rather than months the policy will clearly fail.”

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