Boris Johnson backs Tory rebels over Rwanda bill, saying it should be ‘as robust as possible’ – UK politics live | Politics

Boris Johnson backs Tory rebels trying to strengthen Rwanda bill, saying it should be ‘as robust as possible’

Boris Johnson, the former PM, has backed the rebel Tory MPs pushing amendments designed to make the Rwanda bill tougher. In his first post on X this year (he does not often use it), he says:

Governments around the world are now trying to imitate the UK Rwanda policy for tackling illegal people trafficking. This bill must be as legally robust as possible – and the right course is to adopt the amendments

Governments around the world are now trying to imitate the UK Rwanda policy for tackling illegal people trafficking. This bill must be as legally robust as possible – and the right course is to adopt the amendments. https://t.co/lOpdbpzWl5

— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) January 16, 2024

The Rwanda policy, which involves banning people arriving on small boats from claiming asylum in the UK and deporting them to Rwanda, supposedly as a deterrent to stop future migrants paying people smugglers for a place on a small boat, was conceived and announced when he was PM. At the time Sunak had doubts as to whether it would work, according to a recent leak to the BBC.

Johnson was commenting on a tweet posted by Simon Clarke, the former levelling up secretary, linking to an article Clarke has written for ConservativeHome on this topic. In the article Clarke says:

At the moment, the government’s own assessment is that the bill as drafted has only a 50/50 chance of success. For me, that’s simply not good enough.

There are no guarantees in politics, as in life, but I owe it to the people who send me to Westminster, who have put their trust in me to act as I know they wish to be represented, to be able to look them in the eye and say that I sincerely believe our new law will work.

If our amendments are rejected, and I can’t do that, then I can’t vote for it.

I don’t know yet how this week will unfold. All outcomes are possible and I hope sincerely that the government will accept improvements to the legislation.

But if things go wrong, there are a number of us who have shown before, just as we did on Theresa May’s soft Brexit legislation, that we won’t hesitate to act on principle to actually get things done.

We were right then and we were right now. The public is absolutely exhausted of politicians who are only prepared to offer half measures, and to see our country limp along in a stupor of inaction and failure.

Enough. We either amend this bill so that it will work, or we face utter disaster when it becomes clear over the months ahead that it does not deliver. Many of us will not stand idly by and let that happen.

Key events

Tory papers mostly back Sunak, not hardline rebel MPs, ahead of key votes on Rwanda bill

The main opposition to Rishi Sunak in Tory circles comes from the so-called “five families” – a nickname used by at least some of the leader of the five groups wanting to toughen the bill: the New Conservatives, the European Research Group, the Common Sense group, the Conservative Growth Group and the Northern Research Group.

But there are another “five families” whose views are important in Tory politics. They are the five main Conservative-leaning papers: the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Sun, the Daily Telegraph and the Times. (The Times is not quite as pro-Tory as the others – historically, it is more pro-establishment than pro-Conservative – but it is not aligned with Labour.) Broadly, these papers have all been calling for tougher action to tackle the problem of small boats. But, on the Rwanda bill, four out of five of them in their editorials are backing Sunak rather than the Tory rebels now being supported by Boris Johnson. That is to a large extent because they are worried that a bitter split will be bad for the party’s prospects at the general election.

In its editorial today the Daily Mail says Tory rebels “must park their differences and get behind their leader in these critical months before the election”.

The Daily Express says in its editorial: “We strongly wish Mr Sunak to succeed … We concur with Tory chairman Richard Holden, who said it’s tim to get the legislation ‘across the line’.”

In an editorial yesterday the Sun said Conservative MPs “must come together this week and back the prime minister’s plan – however imperfect they consider it to be – to help stop future tragedies”.

And in an editorial yesterday the Times said the bill was “a sensible balance, respecting the will of parliament and the rights of the individual” and that MPs should support it.

The only paper backing the rebels, or at least partly backing them, is the Daily Telegraph. In its editorial today it says Sunak should accept some of their demands. It says:

[Sunak] could plough on and assume the rebels cannot muster the votes needed to defeat him or try to meet them halfway. There is scope to accept that individual appeals against deportation orders should be allowed only in the most extreme circumstances. That might stop the legal process being abused to clog up the system so that no flights to Rwanda ever leave the ground.

An amendment that would automatically block the European Court of Human Rights from granting last-minute injunctions to suspend flights, known as Rule 39 orders, should also be accepted.

There is a wider point here. Successive Tory governments have promised both to stop the boats and curb legal migration and have yet to do either.

The voters are telling pollsters that this failure is one reason why they are not planning to support the Tories, even if they are not especially enthused by Labour. Mr Sunak needs to find a way to show them he understands their concerns.

Here is more from the story in the Times by Steven Swinford and Matt Dathan on Rishi Sunak’s plan to bring in more judges to stop asylum appeals clogging up the system and delaying flights to Rwanda. (See 9.46am.) They report:

Ministers are preparing to announce plans to move 150 judges from the first-tier tribunal to the upper tribunal, the body that will hear appeals under the new legislation.

The judges are being given additional training and will be paid more to sit on evenings and weekends. The government has also brought in 100 extra officials to process claims and will create additional hearing rooms.

This is designed to fast-track the process of considering individual legal appeals lodged by migrants. The Home Office believes 99.5% of individual legal challenges will fail but there is still a risk that large numbers lodging appeals will clog up the system sufficiently to delay and frustrate their removal. A government source said the extra manpower will ensure that in the “very unlikely scenario a claim proceeds, it will be dealt with swiftly and not clog up the system”.

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The new analysis about the swing Labour needs to win a general election (see 11.04am) is based on the new constituency boundaries. If you want to see if your constituency has changed, and, if it has, how it would have voted in 2019 on the basis of the new boundaries, we have an online tool that will tell you. It’s here.

Labour needs record swing to win general election on new boundaries, analysis suggests

Labour will need a record swing at the next general election to win a majority, the BBC is reporting. Peter Barnes, the BBC’s elections and political analyst, says:

The next election will be fought on new constituency boundaries, redrawn to reflect population changes and to try to even out voter numbers in each area.

An analysis of these changes for BBC News, ITV News, Sky News and the Press Association suggests Labour needs a national swing of 12.7% to win with just a small majority.

That’s considerably higher than the 10.2% achieved by Tony Blair in 1997 and higher even than the 12% achieved by Clement Attlee in 1945.

The swing from the Conservatives to Labour would need to be uniform, to follow the same pattern everywhere, with other parties seeing no change in performance since 2019.

The report has been welcomed by Labour figures worried about yesterday’s YouGov MRP poll suggesting the Labour is on course for a majority of 120 seats. This is from Alastair Campbell, the former No 10 spin doctor who is now a star podcaster.

After all the ballyhoo created by the right wing ecosystem yesterday re Telegraph/Frost poll, might I suggest this analysis nearer the mark. Ps also on polls, Tories now talking of “private polls”. Ignore any stories re them too.

After all the ballyhoo created by the right wing ecosystem yesterday re Telegraph/Frost poll, might I suggest this analysis nearer the mark. Ps also on polls, Tories now talking of “private polls”. Ignore any stories re them too. https://t.co/ARNmnAAlfy

— ALASTAIR CAMPBELL (@campbellclaret) January 16, 2024

“Record swing” does sound like a near-impossible hurdle. But it is worth pointing out that, when Tony Blair achieved his 10.2% swing in 1997, that was a swing from the results in 1992, when Labour came quite close to winning. Keir Starmer’s swing will be benchmarked against the 2019 result, when Labour recorded its worst result since 1935.

It is also the case that voters are more willing to switch parties when they vote at elections than in the past. This chart, from a recent report from UK in a Changing Europe, illustrates this.

How voters are more likely to switch parties at elections
How voters are more likely to switch parties at elections Photograph: Uk in a Changing Europe/UK in a Changing Europe

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Gove says he is ‘pretty sure’ Lee Anderson will still be Tory deputy chair at next election

Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, has told Times Radio that he is “pretty sure” that Lee Anderson will still be a Conservative party deputy chair at the time of the next election.

He made the comment when asked if he thought Anderson would be sacked for saying he will vote against the government on the Rwanda bill. As the Guardian reports, Anderson announced this in a post on X last night.

The Rwanda Bill.

I have signed the Cash & Jenrick amendments.

I will vote for them.

The Rwanda Bill.

I have signed the Cash & Jenrick amendments.

I will vote for them.

— Lee Anderson MP (@LeeAndersonMP_) January 15, 2024

Brendan Clarke-Smith, another Tory deputy chair, is also planning to rebel.

When I was elected in 2019 I promised my constituents we would take back control. I want this legislation to be as strong as possible and therefore I will be supporting the Jenrick/Cash amendments. These are arguments I have consistently made and will continue to make

When I was elected in 2019 I promised my constituents we would take back control. I want this legislation to be as strong as possible and therefore I will be supporting the Jenrick/Cash amendments. These are arguments I have consistently made and will continue to make. #Rwanda

— Brendan Clarke-Smith MP (@Bren4Bassetlaw) January 15, 2024

Asked what action might be taken against Anderson, Gove replied:

Well, I think we might be getting ahead of ourselves because I think that, and Lee is a friend and I’m a big admirer of his, the concerns that Lee has about the bill are the concerns that the country has about migration more broadly.

And I think the bill does address them. I think the bill does make sure – it’s one of the toughest pieces of migration legislation to come before the House of Commons if not the toughest – and it makes sure that ministers can quickly and clearly send people to Rwanda because it deals with all of the concerns that the supreme court had.

Conservative party deputy chairs and vice-chairs (vice-chairs are more junior) are not members of the government, but they are considered part of the “payroll vote” and expected to vote with the government. In the past people have been sacked from these posts for rebelling, as Stephen Hammond was after a Brexit vote in 2017.

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Boris Johnson backs Tory rebels trying to strengthen Rwanda bill, saying it should be ‘as robust as possible’

Boris Johnson, the former PM, has backed the rebel Tory MPs pushing amendments designed to make the Rwanda bill tougher. In his first post on X this year (he does not often use it), he says:

Governments around the world are now trying to imitate the UK Rwanda policy for tackling illegal people trafficking. This bill must be as legally robust as possible – and the right course is to adopt the amendments

Governments around the world are now trying to imitate the UK Rwanda policy for tackling illegal people trafficking. This bill must be as legally robust as possible – and the right course is to adopt the amendments. https://t.co/lOpdbpzWl5

— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) January 16, 2024

The Rwanda policy, which involves banning people arriving on small boats from claiming asylum in the UK and deporting them to Rwanda, supposedly as a deterrent to stop future migrants paying people smugglers for a place on a small boat, was conceived and announced when he was PM. At the time Sunak had doubts as to whether it would work, according to a recent leak to the BBC.

Johnson was commenting on a tweet posted by Simon Clarke, the former levelling up secretary, linking to an article Clarke has written for ConservativeHome on this topic. In the article Clarke says:

At the moment, the government’s own assessment is that the bill as drafted has only a 50/50 chance of success. For me, that’s simply not good enough.

There are no guarantees in politics, as in life, but I owe it to the people who send me to Westminster, who have put their trust in me to act as I know they wish to be represented, to be able to look them in the eye and say that I sincerely believe our new law will work.

If our amendments are rejected, and I can’t do that, then I can’t vote for it.

I don’t know yet how this week will unfold. All outcomes are possible and I hope sincerely that the government will accept improvements to the legislation.

But if things go wrong, there are a number of us who have shown before, just as we did on Theresa May’s soft Brexit legislation, that we won’t hesitate to act on principle to actually get things done.

We were right then and we were right now. The public is absolutely exhausted of politicians who are only prepared to offer half measures, and to see our country limp along in a stupor of inaction and failure.

Enough. We either amend this bill so that it will work, or we face utter disaster when it becomes clear over the months ahead that it does not deliver. Many of us will not stand idly by and let that happen.

Julia Kollewe is covering the Post Office Horizon scandal hearings today on a separate live blog. It’s here.

Leading Tory Rwanda rebel says PM’s plan for extra judges shows bill will not stop appeals

Good morning. MPs will this afternoon start two days of debate on Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda bill, and the proceedings, and votes, are going to be an interesting trial of strength between Sunak and the rightwing faction in his party that does not rate him and wants him out. At one point there was talk in hardline Tory circles about the rebellion triggering a leadership contest, with Kemi Badenoch lined up to be installed as the Tories’ sixth PM since 2010. No one is expecting that now. But over the next two days we will find out quite how many Conservatives are willing to vote against the government on Rwanda, and quite how vitriolic they are willing to be about Sunak’s strategy. We’ll also find out whether Sunak feels he is strong enough to sack the two Tory deputy chairs who say they will vote against the government, or whether their revolt will be tolerated.

The debates will also set the stage for a significant “I told you so” moment in Tory politics later this year. The rebels say, without significant amendment, the bill will fail to “stop the boats”. Sunak claims it can and will work. Mainstream legal opinion is probably with the rebels at this point. No one knows for sure, but by the time of the election it will be easier to say whether or not the bill has worked.

This morning the Times is reporting that, in a further effort to get his MPs to support the bill, Sunak is planning to “fast-track migrant appeals against deportation to Rwanda by drafting in 150 judges and freeing up courtrooms”.

The proposal has not impressed Miriam Cates, co-chair of the New Conservatives, a rightwing Tory group calling for drastic cuts to immigration and withdrawal from the European convention on human rights. She told the Today programme:

All that this drafting in of more judges shows is that the government is expecting a large number of legal claims. And don’t forget that they can then go to appeal. And then the idea of the deterrent doesn’t work because people know that they can stay in this country for a large period of time – their claims may be heard, they may be kept in this country for a long period of time.

The point of a deterrent is that everybody who arrives here is swiftly detained and deported. We’re not saying that people should not be able to make legal claims. What we’re saying is that those claims need to be made in Rwanda, people will still have, under our amendments, those full rights of appeal in Rwanda. But the point is they need to be deported to Rwanda in order to have this deterrent.

Cates also said she would vote against the bill at third reading (on Wednesday evening) if the proposed rightwing amendments were not passed or accepted. She said she did not know how many colleagues would do the same, but that 66 Conservatives had signed at least one of the rebel amendments.

I will be focusing mostly on this story all day. There are also important Post Office Horizon scandal hearings taking place, but we will cover those on a separate live blog.

Here is the agenda for the day.

Morning: Rishi Sunak chairs cabinet.

10am: Rajbinder Sangha, a former member of Fujitsu’s fraud team, gives evidence to the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry.

10am: Lord Arbuthnot, the Tory peer and former MP, and Neil Hudgell, a lawyer, who both backed victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal, give evidence to the Commons business committee about the scandal. The committee is taking evidence from many key figures this morning including Alan Bates and Jo Hamilton (victims and campaigners) at 10.30am; Nick Read, chief executive of the Post Office, and Paul Patterson, director of Fujitsu Services, at 11am, and Kevin Hollinrake and Carl Creswell, business resilience director at the Department for Business and Trade, at 11.30am.

10am: The UK Covid inquiry starts hearings in Edinburgh, with opening statements from counsel.

10am: Eluned Morgan, the Welsh government’s health minister, and Judith Paget, chief executive of NHS Wales, hold a press conference on the impact of the junior doctors’ strike in Wales.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

After 12.30pm: MPs start a six-hour debate on amendments to the safety of Rwanda (asylum and immigration) bill.

After 3pm: David Cameron, the foreign secretary, takes questions in the Lords on Israel and Gaza, UN sustainable development goals, the rules-based order and the Rohingya refugee crisis.

If you want to contact me, do try the “send us a message” feature. You’ll see it just below the byline – on the left of the screen, if you are reading on a laptop or a desktop. This is for people who want to message me directly. I find it very useful when people message to point out errors (even typos – no mistake is too small to correct). Often I find your questions very interesting, too. I can’t promise to reply to them all, but I will try to reply to as many as I can, either in the comments below the line; privately (if you leave an email address and that seems more appropriate); or in the main blog, if I think it is a topic of wide interest.

Miriam Cates in the Commons.
Miriam Cates in the Commons. Photograph: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA

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