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Tories accused of ‘fighting like cats in a sack’ over Rwanda plan

12 Dec 2023 5 minute read
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak – Leon Neal.

Emily Price

The Conservatives have been accused of “fighting like cats in a sack” as Rishi Sunak tries to avert a rebellion by right-wing Tory MPs over his controversial Rwanda plan.

Ahead of the debate this evening on plans to send asylum seekers to the African nation, Plaid Cymru Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts MP described the Safety of Rwanda Bill as an “unworkable stunt”.

This morning the Prime Minister invited the New Conservatives group to breakfast at No 10 as the UK Government battled to avoid a humiliating defeat over the scheme.

Would-be rebels have warned Mr Sunak that “major surgery” is still required to fix the asylum legislation, with as many as 40 MPs prepared to either abstain or vote against it.

A revolt by 29 Tory MPs could be enough to defeat the Bill at its first Commons hurdle – something that has not happened to a piece of UK Government legislation since 1986.

Illegal migration minister Michael Tomlinson – who replaced Robert Jenrick after he resigned in protest against the legislation has insisted he is “very much in listening mode” as last-ditch efforts to convince would-be rebels continue.

He told Sky News: “They’re not pesky rebels – they are respected colleagues who I have worked with.”

Mr Tomlinson said he is a former member of the European Research Group (ERG), one of the Tory factions critical of the Bill, and “I know the concerns that colleagues have”.

“I knew the desire of colleagues right across the breadth of our broad church in the parliamentary party. What do they want? They want this Bill to work.

“The way I’m going to help to persuade them to support the Bill and to support us as we pass the Bill through Parliament is to help show that the Bill is actually going to work, because that’s what we all want.”


He also dismissed criticism of Rwanda’s leader, Paul Kagame, from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s president, Felix Tshisekedi, who accused his neighbour of behaving like Adolf Hitler by having “expansionist aims”.

The New Conservatives’ invitation to Downing Street follows a meeting in Mr Kruger’s office on Monday night – attended by Mr Jenrick and former home secretary Suella Braverman – which concluded the Bill “needs major surgery or replacement”.

ERG leader Mark Francois also called for Mr Sunak to withdraw the Bill and rewrite it to toughen it up, rather than put it to a vote on Tuesday.

However, around 100 One Nation moderates said they will recommend backing the Bill after attending a meeting addressed by Attorney General Victoria Prentis.


But in One Nation chairman Damian Green also warned its MPs would oppose any amendments that would risk the UK breaching the rule of law and its international obligations.

Home Secretary James Cleverly used an article in the Telegraph to defend the plan overnight, writing: “After Brexit, the United Kingdom is a fully sovereign country once again – and of course we must control our borders. Anyone who agrees must support the Rwanda Bill.”

The Bill allows ministers to disapply the Human Rights Act but does not go as far as overriding the European Convention on Human Rights, which Tory hardliners have demanded.

The UK Government’s current assessment is that only one in 200 cases will successfully avoid being sent to Rwanda once the Bill becomes law.

But critics of the plan have disputed the Home Office’s modelling of how effective it would be.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer dismissed the Rwanda plan as a “gimmick” and piece of political “performance art”.

He told BBC Breakfast that Labour would use the money “being wasted on the Rwanda scheme” to step up cross-border policing to tackle human trafficking gangs and speed up asylum claim processing, with those refused permission to stay sent back to their country of origin.

“What I wouldn’t do, and what I won’t vote for, is £290 million spent on a gimmick that is the Rwanda scheme, that won’t work, at the very most will take about 100 people. We’ve got 160,000 people waiting for their asylum claims to be processed, so it’s a drop in the ocean,” he said.

Human rights group Amnesty International UK urged all MPs to vote against the legislation, calling it an “outrageous attack on the very concept of universal human rights”.

Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts said the money from the Rwanda plan should be invested into eh asylum system.

She said: “People are facing the biggest fall in living standards on record, another hike in energy prices and sky high mortgages and rents. Meanwhile, the Tories are fighting like cats in a sack over an unethical and unworkable stunt. Rishi Sunak has lost all credibility and authority.

“The £240m+ wasted on the Rwanda stunt should have been invested into the asylum system. The way forward is not offloading obligations but working with European partners, set up proper processing centres across the Channel, and open more legal corridors from refugee camps.

“That way, we could process claims quickly, and return those who do not have legal claims without wasting hundreds of millions on a publicity stunt. But with the Tories adrift from reality, genuine solutions aren’t even considered.”

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Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
7 months ago

One wonders why it is that this Tory Government is so averse to looking for and evaluating evidence before launching dreadful schemes like this Rwanda plan. It was pointed out today on Radio 4 by a respectable academic that the “threat” that this Bill provides will not disincentivize refugees from risking their lives in small boats. One of the principal reasons is that most of them will not know about it and, furthermore, the likely numbers that Rwanda can accept is so small that less than 1% of refugees are likely to get forcibly re-patriated. He also pointed out that… Read more »

7 months ago

Absolute state of the UK, we are up to our necks in it, literally if like to go in the sea. NHS is ruined, up for sale, ppe contract theft written off, worst party in the history of the UK in charge when covid hit, massive cost of living crisis, people stuck on the streets, people getting evicted daily in huge numbers, mortgages going up, energy going up and on and on with the issues. Are they trying to do anything about the state of the UK? NO, that bunch of charlatans are trying to save their reputation on the… Read more »

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