Rishi Sunak faces yet more hurdles to get his small boats laws over the line after refusing to make a concession around modern slavery protections, setting himself up for a clash with senior Tory backbenchers.
i understands No 10 was in talks with senior rebels on Monday night after new amendments to the Illegal Migration Bill did not concede to demands from MPs to reconsider the lack of protections for those trafficked to the UK.
The amendments, announced by the Home Office, included measures relating to holding unaccompanied children in detention, after the draft legislation faced a series of defeats in the House of Lords.
But Mr Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman have refused to back down over a rebel plan to introduce protections for trafficking victims.
The Prime Minister has faced opposition – led by former Tory leaders Theresa May and Sir Iain Duncan Smith – over the lack of protection for such groups of people.
Sir Iain and Mrs May held off launching a Commons rebellion against the PM but the House of Lords picked up the issue and backed introducing protections for human trafficking victims.
Mr Sunak refused to concede to the Lords amendment to “exempt people who have been unlawfully exploited in the UK” from deportation, with a Home Office statement stressing the Government believes “excluding certain cohorts from this legislation could incentivise some people to attempt Channel crossings and make people-smugglers target specific groups” – ultimately putting them “at greater risk”.
Sources suggested the latest concessions do not go far enough to satisfy the concerns of the critics, and the Bill is likely to face a further political tussle.
The changes agreed to by the Home Office will mean unaccompanied children will be granted immigration bail after eight days to instead of the current proposed 28 days.
Another concession will stop the Home Secretary removing those who have already arrived in the UK, with this part of the law only applying from when the Bill receives royal assent.
But the ban on re-entry, settlement, and citizenship for all those who have travelled to the UK through “unofficial means” will still apply retrospectively.
The Government will still seek to remove anyone who arrived before the date of Royal Assent under existing powers.
Ministers believe they have made enough concessions to see off potentially significant Tory rebellions on the other issues, i understands.
Tory Home Affairs Committee member Tim Loughton, who had led on several potential rebel amendments in the Commons that he largely dropped, was understood to be in talks with the Home Office over the concessions on Monday.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said: “This Bill forms a crucial part of our action to stop the boats and ensure people do not risk their lives by making illegal and unnecessary journeys to the UK.
“Today’s amendments will help this crucial legislation pass through Parliament swiftly, whilst continuing to send a clear message that the exploitation of children and vulnerable people, used by criminals and ferried across the Channel, cannot continue.”