Sunak makes pitch to wavering Tory MPs ahead of Rwanda vote

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Rishi Sunak has mounted a last-minute operation to save his Rwanda migration bill as Conservative rebels demanded he pull the legislation before a House of Commons vote on Tuesday evening.

Sunak held breakfast talks in Downing Street with Tory rightwingers, who believe the Safety of Rwanda bill does not go far enough to stop asylum seekers appealing against being sent to the African country.

Government insiders insisted Sunak was determined to press ahead with Tuesday’s vote, in spite of warnings that up to 40 rightwing Tory MPs were wavering on whether to support the bill.

It would take only 29 Tory MPs to vote with the Labour opposition to defeat the bill on its crucial second reading. No government has lost such a vote at this stage of its parliamentary proceedings since 1986.

If some Tory MPs decided to abstain, that would reduce the number of Conservatives needed to vote against the legislation with Labour to defeat it.

Sir Simon Clarke, former cabinet minister, told the BBC that the rightwing MPs would consider how to vote after talks with Sunak and other ministers to see if more concessions could be extracted.

“We believe the best solution here is the government should pause this legislation today, we should come back with a new bill which would obviously need to be different in scope and effect to pass parliamentary rules but that could be drawn up,” he said.

But James Cleverly, home secretary, warned MPs there was only a “narrow landing strip” for the legislation, which Sunak has insisted must comply with Britain’s international obligations.

More than 100 Tory MPs from the centre-left One Nation group decided on Monday to grudgingly back the legislation, which they believe is already too harsh. The group warned Sunak not to cave in to demands by the Tory right to toughen up the bill.

“As a group we feel thus far and no further,” said Sir Robert Buckland, MP for South Swindon and a member of the One Nation caucus of more moderate Conservative MPs, adding that “if anything, this bill needs to be drawn back the other way”.

Sunak “needs to know that there’s a larger body of people in the party who want him to succeed who will actually support him when the chips are down,” he said. “He should know who his friends are”.

In a sign that the vote could go down to the wire, the Conservative, Labour and the Scottish National parties have all withdrawn permission for their MPs to be away from the Commons on Tuesday.

Members of the foreign affairs committee were told to cut short a visit to the Middle East and fly back from Qatar to make the vote, while the international development committee’s trip to the Caribbean was cancelled, according to officials.

Party grandees including Lord David Cameron, foreign secretary, David Davis, former Brexit secretary, and Sir Geoffrey Cox, former attorney-general, have been urging Tory MPs to back Sunak’s bill.

Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leader, is set to use a speech on Tuesday to attack the ruling Conservative party for the “charade” of its policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Starmer will say that £290mn of taxpayers’ money has been spent on the beleaguered scheme in “a failed exercise in Conservative party management”.

Sunak brought forward the legislation to declare Rwanda a “safe” country after the Supreme Court ruled that his migration scheme was unlawful.

The bill declares that Rwanda is a safe country for asylum seekers and disapplies parts of the UK’s 1998 Human Rights Act, but migrants could still lodge appeals on the basis of individual circumstances.

The Labour party, which is currently leading in the opinion polls by about 20 points, has said it will scrap the scheme if it wins the general election expected next year.

Video: Sketchy Politics: Sunak sets out his stall for the election

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