Rebel factions are making my party ‘ungovernable’, suggests Conservative MP

Rishi Sunak managed to survive a crunch first vote over the Safety of Rwanda Bill last night, after spending the day in talks with potential rebels.

It came as 29 Conservative MPs abstained on the vote, following speculation throughout the day they could choose to vote against the legislation at its second reading. 

It sets up a January showdown for the PM over his flagship deportation legislation, with right-wing MPs urging the government to toughen up the bill, and party moderates urging Sunak to stay the course. 

‘Total Tory chaos!’: MPs debate Rwanda bill as Sunak seeks to diffuse backbench revolt

Reflecting on the days events, which were dominated by speculation that rebel Conservative factions might vote down the legislation, MP Ben Bradley suggested his party appears “ungovernable”. 

Bradley, the Conservative MP for Mansfield who backed the government yesterday, told BBC Newsnight: “We have been in government for 13 years. We have got a parliamentary party that has been built in all different directions, in different elections, by different leaders.

He added: “You might argue it’s kind of ungovernable. This situation suggests it’s certainly not easy to govern.”

Watch moment Rwanda bill passes second reading amid Conservative rebel abstentions

When it was put to home secretary James Cleverly this morning that the rebel right could return in the New Year to amend the legislation, he dismissed the characterisation. 

“I don’t agree”, he told Sky News. 

He said it was “absolutely wrong” to say a lot of Conservatives don’t want the bill to work, insisting that the party is “united”.

Pressed on the potential for changes to be made to the bill: “We of course are more than willing to listen to good faith amendments that are designed to make the bill better, keep it within the bounds of international law.”

Asked specifically about European Research Group (ERG) chairman Mark Francois’ objections of the legislation, Cleverly said: “I will talk to Mark and I’ll talk to others … to understand their thinking on this and try to harvest their ideas to make things better.”

“But I can’t see if someone’s got a concern that the bill might not be as strong as they would like, killing the bill doesn’t strike me as the best way of doing that, because if the bill isn’t on the statute books it can’t possibly succeed.”

Why the Conservative Party still can’t break free from the ERG

Former home secretary Suella Braverman and former immigration minister Robert Jenrick were among some of the rebels who disobeyed the party whip to abstain yesterday. 

Speaking in the debate that preceded the vote, Jenrick told MPs: said: “I will never elevate contested notions of international law over the interests of my constituents, over vital national interests like national security, like border security.

“This bill could be so much better. Let’s make it better. Let’s make it work”.

Rwanda bill: Robert Jenrick dismisses ‘contested notions of international law’

But amid the threat of hostile amendments from his party right in the New Year, the One Nation group of moderate Conservatives is encouraging the PM to hold his ground. 

Damian Green, the Chairman of the 106-strong One Nation group, told Newsnight the PM had secured a “pretty solid” majority for his proposal and that he hoped the “third reading would go through reasonably easily”.

“On today’s vote, the government has more or less managed the narrow landing strip that it is aiming at, and so it should stick to that landing strip”, he added. is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.