The failure of Conservative rebels to force tougher measures into the Safety of Rwanda Bill presents them with a dilemma. Do they now vote against the legislation when it comes before the Commons for a Third Reading?
Around 60 voted in favour of amendments intended to limit the scope for appeals against deportation orders and block the European Court of Human Rights from intervening to stop flights. They argued that the Bill as it now stands will not reduce traffic across the Channel, let alone stop the boats entirely. The rebels included the deputy party chairmen Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith, who resigned their posts.
But having been unable to persuade Rishi Sunak to concede their points and override international treaty obligations, the amendments were easily defeated by a combination of Government and Opposition votes. The question for the rebels now is whether to support a measure they say they do not believe will achieve what ministers claim of it.
Just 30 or so rebels could defeat the Government, since the Opposition will vote against a Third Reading. But that would lose the Bill altogether and further undermine Rishi Sunak’s authority at a time when the party is facing an uphill struggle to recover in the polls before the election later this year.
To lose a flagship Bill on a matter to which the Prime Minister has attached such importance is not strictly a confidence issue but it would come close. Labour might table a motion to that effect should the legislation be defeated, though at that point the Tories would need to come together or an early election would follow.
If the Bill gets through the Commons, it will still face challenges in the House of Lords, whose amendments will then come back to MPs at some point. This has been a bruising process for Mr Sunak for arguably little gain. Even if the flights to Rwanda do take off, they are expected to carry just a few hundred migrants at most.
Critics fear there will be so many appeals, which can take up to two years to be heard, that the Rwanda scheme will never get off the ground, making Mr Sunak’s “stop the boats” pledge look hollow. Ministers say they will speed up the appeals process by drafting in scores of judges to hear cases, implying that they expect many appeals. But since the backlog in the justice system is causing trials to be delayed for years, it is hard to believe there is such extra capacity.