Inside the Tory Party's Rwanda crisis... and why the rebels are so bad at rebelling - analysis by Millie Cooke

Inside the Tory Party's Rwanda crisis... and why the rebels are so bad at rebelling - analysis by Millie Cooke

The Rwanda Bill passed through the Commons on Wednesday

GB News
Millie Cooke

By Millie Cooke

Published: 19/01/2024

- 06:00

Updated: 19/01/2024

- 08:11

The knowledge that one wrong move could cost them their seats has raised the stakes - and it has made them weaker than ever

The days - and even weeks - leading up to Wednesday's vote on Rwanda saw a lot of talk from rebel MPs - and not much action.

Rewind to December, when MPs threatened to rebel - and then didn't - at the Bill's second reading. It was justified by threats of an even bigger rebellion at the amendment stage. They said they were voting with the Government, or abstaining, on the basis that they believed in the bill on principle but did not believe it would work in practice. They would therefore amend it at the committee stage.

But when the committee stage rolled around, the amendments failed. In refusing to back their supposedly essential changes to the legislation, the Prime Minister had called their bluff.

Perhaps Sunak knew, ultimately, that their show of force wouldn't translate to votes. He was right. The final bill was voted through by 320 votes to 276.

Tory MPs

Some rebels held out and voted against the Bill


But why did a rebellion, backed by more than 60 MPs the day before, disappear to just 11 no votes overnight? And why did Sunak see it coming?

Because the rebels just can't agree on a path forward.

There is an almost terminal level of malaise among Tory towards the Sunak administration. But having ripped through five prime ministers since the last election, the "almost" part of that description seems to be doing a lot of heavy lifting.

MPs know that if they topple another PM, they will have their hand forced to call another general election. And given last week's horrific polling which predicted a 1997-style wipeout for the Tory party, a snap election is not something they can get behind.

So when it came to this week's rebellion, there was a general acceptance that voting down the Government on something as significant as migration - a central pillar of Sunak's premiership - would lead to a confidence vote - or at least a level of turbulence that would send the party spinning in that direction.

And it was this reality that made it so difficult for the rebels to agree on a course of action. Despite them being in agreement that the Government's Rwanda Bill did not do what they wanted it to do, they simply could not agree on how to solve the problem.

Those who were willing to go full-kamikaze and vote down the Government were sneered at by some rebel MPs as being a pawn in the "Suella Braverman leadership contest", while those rebels who chose to vote with the Government were accused of wimping out.

And even yesterday morning after the chaos subsided in the Sunak camp, the rebels were still at it.

Asked whether any no confidence letters had gone in on Wednesday night, two senior MPs in the rebel camp confidently told me that not a single letter had gone in. "I can see no appetite for that", one told me.


But, responding to the same question about no-confidence letters, another "source close to the rebels" went in full attack mode.

They said: "Given how both No10 and the whips office behaved in the run-up to the third reading, it would come as no surprise that for some colleagues this was the straw that broke the camel's back. The Prime Minister said he would do whatever it takes to stop the boats, yet, he has ploughed through with a Bill which he knows is utterly ineffectual, just to try and save his premiership."

They couldn't even agree on whether or not the rebels were still rebelling.

The knowledge that one wrong move could cost them all their seats has raised the stakes for Tory rebels - and it has made them weaker than ever.

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