Peers are being urged to “get on” and pass the Rwanda Bill after Rishi Sunak saw off the prospect of a defeat at the hands of right-wing Conservative MPs.
The Safety of Rwanda Bill passed its third reading in the Commons unamended with a majority of 44 after only 11 Tories, including former home secretary Suella Braverman, voted against the Prime Minister’s flagship immigration legislation.
Before the third reading vote, Mr Sunak was hit by another revolt — following on from similar sized rebellions on Tuesday — as 61 Tory MPs backed an amendment, proposed by former immigration minister Robert Jenrick, designed to toughen the Bill.
But rebels, after an 11th hour meeting in Parliament on Wednesday, signalled before the third reading vote that they were prepared to back the Bill without any changes as they regarded that a defeat for the Government would be damaging ahead of a general election that is only months away.
Downing Street described the Rwanda Bill’s progression as a “major step” in the Prime Minister’s pledge to stop small boats of asylum seekers from coming to Britain via the English Channel.
The Bill will now move to the House of Lords where it is expected to face serious opposition.
Immigration minister Tom Pursglove urged peers to “get on and make good on this legislation”.
He told BBC’s Newsnight: “I think it is really important that the Bill has gone to the House of Lords with a significant majority, having had very considerable scrutiny on the floor of the House of Commons, particularly over the last couple of days.
“It has gone up unamended and I really hope that the House of Lords will now get on, consider this Bill and get it passed into law so that we can operationalise this plan and ultimately save lives.”
Mr Pursglove, asked when the first deportation flights to the east African country are likely to take off, repeatedly refused to set a timeframe, saying only that the Government wanted it in operation “as quickly as possible”.
The Prime Minister has previously said it is his ambition to have removal flights leaving by the spring.
But Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former business secretary, said he thought it “unlikely” deportations would take place before the next general election, expected in the second half of 2024, after amendments to the Bill failed.
“I think it will be very difficult to stop the boats without the strengthening that I was supporting,” he told Newsnight.
Sir Jacob was one of dozens of rebels who supported Mr Jenrick’s amendment on Wednesday, which was designed to allow UK ministers to ignore flight-grounding emergency injunctions by European judges, but then backed the legislation at third reading.
Around eight others, including Lee Anderson, who resigned as deputy Conservative Party chairman to back rebel amendments on Tuesday, were among those thought to have abstained on the final vote, bringing the size of the Tory rebellion close to 20.
Mrs Braverman said after the result that the Safety of Rwanda Bill would be open to legal challenges and was “destined to fail”.
The former cabinet minister, setting out her reasons for voting against the Government, said: “The Rwanda Bill will not stop the boats.
“It leaves us exposed to litigation and the Strasbourg court.”
But Downing Street said the “landmark legislation” would “ensure we get flights off to Rwanda”.
Mr Sunak, the Conservative Party leader, is expected to make a media appearance on Thursday following the Commons result.
A No 10 spokeswoman said: “The passing of the Bill marks a major step in our plan to stop the boats.
“This is the toughest legislation ever introduced in Parliament to tackle illegal migration and will make clear that if you come here illegally you will not be able to stay.
“It is this Government and the Conservative Party who have got boat crossings down by more than a third.
“We have a plan, we have made progress and this landmark legislation will ensure we get flights off to Rwanda, deter people from making perilous journeys across the channel and stop the boats.”
Opposition parties, however, were scathing about the divisions exposed in the Tory Party by the Rwanda row.
Labour shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told the Commons “this chaos leaves the Prime Minister’s authority in tatters”.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said the Bill’s progression was “no victory” for Mr Sunak.
“Days of Conservative chaos and infighting has left the Prime Minister’s authority shot,” he said.
Mr Sunak has made the Rwanda policy — first proposed in 2022 while Boris Johnson was in No 10 — central to his premiership, forming part of his pledge to stop small boats of migrants from coming to Britain by the English Channel.
Under the plan, migrants who cross the Channel in small boats could be sent to Rwanda rather than being allowed to seek asylum in the UK.
The legislation, along with a recently signed treaty with Kigali, is aimed at ensuring the scheme is legally watertight after a Supreme Court ruling against it last year.
The stalled policy comes with a £290 million bill but no asylum seekers arriving by unauthorised routes have yet been relocated after a series of challenges in the courts.
Published: by Radio NewsHub