Rwanda bill ‘brutally exposed’ by Sunak’s own MPs, Starmer says – as PM insists small boats plan ‘will work’

Politics

Sir Keir Starmer has attacked the “farce” playing out in the Conservative Party over the government’s Rwanda bill, claiming Rishi Sunak’s plan had been “brutally exposed” by his own MPs.

Ministers insist the scheme to deport asylum seekers who arrive by small boat is “the most robust” legislation ever presented to the Commons, and will revive the plan after it was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court late last year.

But right wing factions within the Tories want it to go even further – with some rebelling to put forward their own amendments, and some threatening to vote down the bill in its entirety if the tougher changes they want aren’t adopted.

Politics live: Starmer drops expletive in criticism of Rwanda plan

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) shortly before the second day of debate on the legislation begins, the Labour leader compared the Conservatives to “hundreds of bald men scrapping over a single broken comb”.

Sir Keir said the “open revolt” within the Tories “against his policy, each other and reality” proved the “gimmick” of the Rwanda bill was set to fail.

“It’s such utterly pathetic nonsense,” said Sir Keir, adding: “If the prime minister can’t even persuade his own MPs it is worth supporting him… why on earth should anyone else think differently?”

But Mr Sunak stood by his new legislation, despite the rebellions, telling the Commons: “I have absolute conviction that the plan we have in place will work, absolute conviction, because I think it is important that we grip this problem.”

He said it was “important that we have a working deterrent” to put asylum seekers off from making the dangerous journey, and claimed it had legal backing too.

“Four eminent KCs have said it is undoubtedly the most robust piece of immigration legislation this parliament has seen,” said the prime minister.

“And a former Supreme Court justice has been clear that the bill works too.”

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Rwanda bill ‘a bucket full of holes’

After six hours of debate on Tuesday, 60 Conservative MPs voted in defiance of the government to back amendments limiting appeals against deportation.

A second amendment around the same issue, put forward by former immigration minister Robert Jenrick, also secured the support of 58 Tories.

However, the majority of MPs from all parties voted against the proposals.

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The government has offered limited concessions to the rebels, including increasing the number of judges to take on deportation appeals, and hinting they could change the civil service code to ensure ministers’ decisions over disapplying international human rights law would be followed.

But further amendments – specifically around injunctions by international courts grounding flights to Rwanda – are expected today, and more rebellions could take place.

Some Tory backbenchers have even said they are prepared to vote down the bill, including Mr Jenrick, ex-housing secretary Simon Clarke, and former education minister Jonathan Gullis.

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