Sunak survives another day: PM breathes sigh of relief but major new Rwanda challenge emerges

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosts a press conference inside the Downing Street Briefing Room

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosts a press conference inside the Downing Street Briefing Room

Jack Walters

By Jack Walters

Published: 12/12/2023

- 19:30

Updated: 12/12/2023

- 22:19

A number of Tory factional groups abstained on the second reading of the Prime Minister's illegal immigration plan

Rishi Sunak has seen off opposition to his Safety of Rwanda Bill in its second reading tonight by 313 votes to 269.

The Prime Minister looked set to face a crunch vote in the Commons after the so-called “five families” on the Tory right ruled out voting in favour of his revised Rwanda plan.

However, Sunak managed to see off rebels with a larger-than-expected majority of 44.

A total of 37 Tory MPs abstained on the second reading, including ex-Home Secretary Suella Braverman and former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick.

WATCH NOW: Rishi Sunak wins key Commons vote on Rwanda

Despite sailing through the Commons at this early stage, the Prime Minister can only breathe a brief sigh of relief as rebels plot to create further challenges when the Bill progresses through the Houses of Parliament.

MPs on the Tory right have suggested they could look to push amendments to the legislation.

European Research Group chairman Mark Francois warned the so-called Cash Amendment could look to bolster the Bill.

Speaking before the division in the House of Commons, the Rayleigh & Wickford MP also said: "The Prime Minister has been telling colleagues today he is prepared to entertain tightening the bill, with that aim, at the committee stage, we will aim to table an amendment which would we hope, if accepted, would materially improve the bill and remove some of its weaknesses.

Conservative Party MP Mark Francois speaks in the chamber of the House of Commons, Westminster

Conservative Party MP Mark Francois


"We very much hope those amendments will be accepted - if they are not and the bill remains unamended, in that way again, collectively, we reserve the right to vote against it at third reading, that is collectively what we have decided."

However, liberal-leaning Tory MPs could look to torpedo any efforts to harden the Bill.

The One Nation Caucus, who voted for the second reading, remain concerned about any future amendments which could mean the Government breaches the rule of law and its international obligations.

The group of around 100 MPs will be advised to oppose such amendments.

Despite concern further down the line, Sunak welcomed the decision taken by MPs to support the Safety of Rwanda Bill in its second reading.

Rishi SunakRishi Sunak PA

Responding on social media, the Prime Minister said: "The British people should decide who gets to come to this country – not criminal gangs or foreign courts. That’s what this bill delivers.

"We will now work to make it law so that we can get flights going to Rwanda and stop the boats."

A No10 spokesperson added: "Tonight the House has shown its support for the Prime Minister's legislation to deem Rwanda safe and stop the boats.

"This Bill is the toughest legislation ever introduced to Parliament.

"It deems Rwanda safe notwithstanding any other interpretation of international law and it makes clear that this parliament, not any foreign court is sovereign.

A still image from inside the House of Commons

A still image from inside the House of Commons


"We will now work to ensure that this Bill gets on to the Statute book so that we can get flights off to Rwanda and stop the boats."

The Safety of Rwanda Bill looks to address concerns expressed in last month's Supreme Court ruling by declaring Rwanda is a safe country to send asylum seekers to.

It also stops flights being grounded for legal reasons by allowing ministers to disapply sections of the Human Rights Act.

The Tory right want the legislation to go further to stop obstacles arising.

However, Home Secretary James Cleverly has suggested the legislation already "pushed at the edge of the envelope" on international law.

Rwanda also told Sunak it will withdraw from the treaty if the UK were to breach its "international obligations".

You may like