Sunak's Bill now faces new hurdles in the Lords and time isn't on his side - Olivia Utley's analysis

Rishi Sunak's Rwanda Bill will now face a new challenge as it goes to the House of Lords.

Rishi Sunak's Rwanda Bill will now face a new challenge as it goes to the House of Lords.

Olivia Utley

By Olivia Utley

Published: 18/01/2024

- 15:14

In this GB News members-only article, Political Correspondent Olivia Utley analyses the challenge Rishi Sunak's plan will now face in the House of Lords

Rishi Sunak and his allies are looking pretty chipper this morning, and well they might. After a big furore yesterday, the much-heralded Tory Right rebellion withered into almost nothing when MPs finally voted on the third reading of the Rwanda bill late last night.

Although 60 Conservative MPs voted for an amendment designed to toughen up the legislation, when push came to shove, only 11 actually voted down the Bill.

Rishi SunakRishi Sunak addresses House of CommonsGB News

But Sunak’s glee may be short-lived. The Bill is now going to the Lords, where it faces an entirely different set of hurdles. The Conservatives don’t have an overall majority in the Lords, and Conservative peers tend to be further to the left of the party than their counterparts in the Commons.

What’s more, because of the chaotic way that the Government won last night’s vote – with Conservative backbenchers criticising the legislation left, right and centre – the Lords will feel that they are in a position of strength if they wish to register their own objections to the legislation as it stands.

All that means that we are heading for a period of what’s known in Westminster as parliamentary “ping pong”. The House of Lords will likely amend the legislation (probably with the goal of watering it down), the Commons will vote on those amendments, and then the revised legislation will go back to the Lords.

In the long term, this isn’t likely to cause too many problems for Sunak: ultimately the Government has a healthy majority in the Commons and can vote down amendments.

But it will all take some time – something which the Prime Minister doesn’t really have. Not only are we heading for an election this year, but Sunak has also said the Government is hoping to see flights take off to Rwanda “by the spring”. If he fails to meet this self-imposed deadline, Labour will no doubt have a field day.

Meanwhile, the Conservative MPs may have presented a united front at the eleventh-hour last night, but the divisions have only really been plastered over – in fact, multiple letters of No Confidence in the Prime Minister have already been sent to Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee.

It’s unlikely that Conservative MPs will actually oust their leader before the General Election – four prime ministers in two years may sound too absurd even for them.

But as the Tories slip further and further down the polls, backbenchers with one eye very firmly on their post parliament futures won’t hesitate to criticise Sunak and his Rwanda plan, both privately and publicly, which will further undermine the PM’s authority. Watch out for furious briefings from anonymous “senior Tories” in the weeks and months ahead.

Sunak attempted to put the ball firmly in the Lords’ court this morning, telling assembled journalists that peers must “get on and do the right thing”.

But ultimately he knows only too well that if the fragile Rwanda legislation ends up imploding, it is he, and not the House of Lords, who will feel the wrath of the public.

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