Ministers expected to toughen illegal migration bill to placate Tory rebels

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA</span>
Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

Ministers appear set to at least partly give way to Conservative rebels over removing safeguards from the illegal migration bill after a Home Office minister said the government was “in listening mode”.

Up to 60 Tory backbenchers are believed to be sympathetic to a series of amendments to the bill, which returns to the Commons on Monday, which would prevent judicial oversight that could stop refugees and asylum seekers from being deported.

One amendment would block judges from granting injunctions to stop deportations, while others would seek to limit the scope of relevant parts of the European convention on human rights (ECHR).

Before the first scheduled votes on amendments later on Monday, rebels have reportedly held back on pushing these after a promise of talks to look at ways the government could toughen the bill.

Chris Philp, the policing minister, said no one “could doubt the prime minister’s commitment or the home secretary’s commitment” to making the law work, and that Suella Braverman, the home secretary, was in talks with potential rebels.

“As I understand it she is discussing these various amendments with members of parliament. I’m sure she’s in listening mode,” Philp told Sky News.

Philp told TalkTV later that the rebels had confirmed they would not push forward the amendments. He said: “My understanding is that the various amendments to strengthen the bill aren’t going to be pushed to a vote today or tomorrow.

“They are being discussed between those people who proposed the amendments and the government, and the home secretary in particular. I know the home secretary is keen to make sure this bill is effective.”

This does not mean there will be no votes on the bill. There are 89 pages of proposed amendments, including one backed by more liberal Tory MPs calling for the establishment of safe and legal asylum routes, and one from Labour that would force the government to seek a new deal on arrivals with EU states.

However, this is the latest in a series of episodes in which Tory backbenchers have pushed Rishi Sunak’s government into giving way by threatening rebellions, most notably in December, when he dropped a plan for compulsory housebuilding targets.

The current situation is slightly different in that Braverman at least is known to be sympathetic to the idea of further toughening a planned law that has already been widely condemned by human rights groups and refugee agencies, and would bar anyone arriving in the UK unofficially from ever settling, even if they were trafficked.

While the Home Office has denied a report in the Times that Braverman has been covertly backing the rebels, she is known to be sympathetic to many of their ideas and has refused to rule out the idea of the UK withdrawing from the ECHR.

Asked at an event in Essex on Monday morning whether his home secretary was acting as a “sock puppet” for rebels, Sunak dodged the question, but did stress the need for the UK to abide by its international obligations.

He and Braverman had worked “incredibly closely” on the bill, Sunak said: “It’s important that it’s effective, which it will be, and it’s also important that we abide by our international obligations. This is a country and a government that does follow the law. Of course that’s important.”

Danny Kruger, the Conservative MP for Devizes, who has signed nine of the amendments, said “discussions are going on” with government, and that the hope was to avoid any splits.

“We’re very supportive of what they’re doing,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “There’s no rebellion here, but we do want to make sure that we get those commitments.”

Kruger has led on two planned amendments, including one that would ignore rulings of the ECHR or other international bodies connected to the removal of asylum seekers and other migrants.

He said this was necessary given the court had helped block the government’s initial attempts to deport people to Rwanda.

The planned changes would make it harder for people to avoid deportation by saying they had been trafficked, Kruger said, while insisting there would be some protections.

He said: “There’s a hugely wide latitude for lawyers to use a large range of different laws, European law and British law. And as we see, the policy gets frustrated and held up indefinitely. So we need to be much clearer about the rules under which a removal could be suspended.”