Rwanda bill: Relief for Rishi Sunak as legislation passes final Commons hurdle

Rishi Sunak has seen off a Tory rebellion after his controversial Rwanda bill passed its final hurdle in the Commons.

The bill, which aims to declare that Rwanda is a safe country to deport asylum seekers to, passed by 320 votes to 276 - a majority of 44 for the government.

In total only 11 Tory MPs voted against the bill, including former home secretary Suella Braverman, former immigration minister Robert Jenrick, Sir Bill Cash, Sir Simon Clarke, Sarah Dines, James Duddridge, Mark Francois, Andrea Jenkyns, David Jones and co-chairs of the New Conservatives, Danny Kruger and Miriam Cates.

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Eighteen Conservative MPs abstained on the bill, including Lee Anderson - who resigned as deputy party chair in protest over the legislation yesterday - former prime minister Theresa May and veteran MP Sir John Hayes.

The bill's passage came despite the threat of a revolt among Tory MPs, with seven initially saying they would vote against it at third reading, including Ms Braverman and Mr Jenrick.

Mr Sunak had been prepared for a collision with right-wing Tories over the bill, which is aimed at reviving his plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda if they attempt to come to the UK via small boat crossings in the Channel.

The bill, which is designed to enable parliament to confirm Rwanda is a "safe country", gives ministers the powers to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act, but does not go as far as allowing them to dismiss the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) entirely - a demand of some on the right.

However, speaking to Sky News' political editor Beth Rigby, Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, one of the rebels, said he ultimately decided to vote in favour of the bill because it was "better than the status quo".

"After the difficulties of the last few days, the Tory party has come together," he added.

"Almost everybody in the Tory party wants people who've come here illegally to be removed to Rwanda, that is a point of unity."

Although the bill has passed its third reading, one Tory source also told Sky News ahead of the vote that the prime minister was "by no means out of the woods".

After passing the third reading in the Commons, the bill will now go through the same process in the House of Lords, where peers are expected to amend the legislation, which will then be debated and voted on.

A process known as parliamentary "ping pong" is likely to ensure when the legislation bounces between the Commons and Lords - where the government does not have a majority - while being amended.

During the debate on the legislation on Wednesday night, MPs considered a series of amendments designed to toughen up the bill before voting on the bill as a whole.

One, proposed by Mr Jenrick, demanded that rule 39 orders from Strasbourg judges should not be binding for the UK.

In June 2022 it was a rule 39 order - which have been referred to as "pyjama injunctions" for the late time at which they are often issued - that prevented the first flight to Rwanda from taking off.

While MPs overall rejected Mr Jenrick's amendment by a majority of 469 votes, the rebellion was significant - with 67 MPs voting for it.

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That included 61 Tory MPs, including the two tellers who verify the count, in an expression of their unhappiness with elements of the bill.

Downing Street had been engaging with MPs with doubts about the legislation after Mr Sunak suffered the resignation of three MPs - Mr Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith, deputy chairs of the Conservative Party, and Jane Stevenson, a parliamentary private secretary in the Department for Business and Trade.

The MPs resigned after they backed amendments put forward by veteran MP Sir Bill Cash and Mr Jenrick on Tuesday night.

A Number 10 spokesman 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," they said.

"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."