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Rishi Sunak's high-stakes showdown: Can the Rwanda bill unite Tory ranks?

Border Control
By David Scane
12 December 2023
Public Affairs
conservative party
rishi sunak
rwanda policy

Amidst a gripping political showdown, Rishi Sunak wrestles with the challenge of uniting Conservative MPs in support of the contentious Rwanda bill. This pivotal vote isn't just about the government's path but could potentially impact the Conservative Party's very existence as around 100 Conservative MPs consider rebelling against the Prime Minister.

Emergency meetings and fervent lobbying efforts have taken place, including this morning’s inducement of bacon butties at Number 10, as Sunak faces the formidable task of swaying uncertain Conservative MPs. The Conservative right have deployed their famous ‘Star Chamber’, demanding significant changes to the Bill, their unease centring on concerns about potential loopholes for individual asylum applications and restrictions affecting appeals and deportation outcomes. 

The bill, targeting legal uncertainties around Channel crossings, remains a divisive focal point. Opposition groups critique what they perceive as inherent flaws and loopholes. Within the Conservative Party, conflicting viewpoints abound, leading to debates over amendments or outright opposition. 

Despite Sunak's firm stance on limited negotiation, emphasising the bill's compliance with international legal norms, subtle hints suggest room for potential compromise. Lingering doubts persist about the bill's efficacy and the cost-effectiveness of the Rwanda scheme, despite ongoing financial commitments.

This imminent vote extends far beyond Sunak's leadership, carrying implications for the broader electoral prospects of the Conservative Party. A potential defeat in this critical parliamentary moment could trigger significant consequences, potentially sparking a leadership contest or even an early general election. The newspapers have gone into overdrive, suggesting the unlikely return of former PM Boris Johnson, with Nigel Farage on a “dream ticket” with the former UKIP leader describing Rishi Sunak as “floundering” and suggesting a defeat tonight could “send him under water”. 

Amid this intricate political landscape, voices express divergent views. David Davis advises against risking Brexit through amendments, citing threats to agreements like the Good Friday Agreement. While Mark Francois urges a reassessment, echoing concerns about efficacy and potential flaws. The key question tonight will be whether enough Conservative MPs vote against, and abstain, to prevent Second Reading, or allow the bill to progress through to the amending stages where the fight will take place again, this time over specific amendments.

The government's resolute determination to push the bill forward contrasts starkly with opposition critiques, setting the stage for a tense and definitive juncture in British politics. Regardless of the outcome, the repercussions of this vote will resonate across the political spectrum, shaping not just Sunak's future but that of the Conservative Party itself.