Tory deputy chairmen back move to ‘beef up’ Rwanda bill

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PM Rishi Sunak is facing a blow to his authority as two deputy Conservative chairmen said they would back moves to toughen up his flagship Rwanda bill.

Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith are among more than 60 Tory MPs on the right of the party supporting changes to the legislation, which returns to the House Commons on Tuesday.

Mr Anderson said the pair agreed with “90% of the bill”.

But he said they wanted to make sure it was “beefed up”.

“This is not a rebellion,” he told GB News.

“We just feel that there’s a few areas in the bill that could be tightened up to make sure that it’s watertight.”

However, the proposed amendments are not expected to pass, as both the government and opposition parties are likely to vote them down.

In a bid to deter people from trying to get to the UK across the Channel in small boats, the government wants to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda. Labour has criticised the policy as an expensive “gimmick” and says it would prioritise tackling the smuggling gangs.

The government’s Rwanda policy was blocked by the Supreme Court on the grounds of concerns about the safety of the east African country.

Following the court decision, the government introduced the Safety of Rwanda Bill which states that in UK law, Rwanda is a safe country.

It also allows ministers to ignore emergency orders from the European Court of Human Rights to suspend a flight to Rwanda while an individual legal case was being heard.

The proposed legislation has been criticised from both sides of the Conservative Party, with those on the right fearing it would not prevent legal challenges, while MPs from the party’s One Nation group are concerned that any hardening of the bill would risk breaking international law.

Robert Jenrick – who resigned as immigration minister last year – and veteran MP Sir Bill Cash have tabled a number of amendments to the bill aimed at restricting an individual’s ability to block their own removal and allowing human rights law to be bypassed.

Mr Anderson and Mr Clarke-Smith have both said they will vote for some of the amendments.

Although not a government role, as deputy chairmen, the pair would be expected to back its positions.

Meanwhile, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch has not denied a report in The Times that she privately warned the plans did not go far enough.

If the amendments are rejected, rebel backbenchers will have to decide whether or not to support the bill, without the changes they want.

It could take as few as 29 Conservative MPs to vote against the bill on Wednesday to scupper it.

However, asked if he would vote against it without any changes, Mr Clarke-Smith said: “Not necessarily‚Ķ We have to weight that up at the time.”

He added: “We want to see that legislation work and we want to see those planes taking off.”

Rishi Sunak reiterated his desire to get his Safety of Rwanda Bill passed while on a visit to Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

Other Conservative MPs, including Sir Simon Clarke, Mark Francois, Sir John Hayes and Danny Kruger – as well as former Home Secretary Suella Braverman – have suggested they could oppose the entire bill if changes are not made.

Sir Simon told BBC Politics Live that if left unamended there was “every reason” to believe it would “fail on contact with reality”.

He warned that if the bill did not work, the Conservatives would “get destroyed” in the general election, expected to take place this year.

However, other more centrist MPs have warned that giving in to the demands of those on the right of the party would make it more difficult for them to support the bill.

Earlier, Mr Sunak said he was “determined” to get the bill passed into law.

Asked about splits among Conservative MPs, Mr Sunak said his party was “completely united in wanting to stop boats” and that he was in discussions with colleagues.

“I’m confident the bill we’ve got is the toughest anyone has seen and think it will resolve the issue once and for all,” he added.

It comes after a YouGov opinion poll indicated the Conservatives were on course for huge losses in the election.

The polling, reported by the Telegraph, suggests the party could be reduced to just 169 seats.

Former Brexit minister Lord David Frost, who was involved in commissioning the poll, said the only way to “rescue the position” was to be “as tough as it takes on immigration, reverse the debilitating increases in tax, end the renewables tax on energy costs – and much more.”

Asked about the poll, Mr Sunak said the only poll that matter was the one “when the general election comes”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his message to party members and MPs was “ignore that poll” and to “fight like we are 5% behind”.

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