Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

Exclusive: David Cameron holds crisis talks with MPs over Immigration Bill

David Cameron has been summoning Tory backbenchers to Number 10 today to personally persuade them not to back an amendment to the Immigration Bill that would reintroduce controls on Bulgarian and Romanian migrants. I have learned that a number of possible waverers who could be persuaded to change their mind and drop their support for Nigel Mills’ amendment have been called to Downing Street as part of a serious whipping operation by the government.

The whips and party leadership have also been trying out a number of unusual tactics to minimise Thursday’s rebellion:

1. Tabling ‘backbench amendments’

Whips are also trying to persuade backbenchers that it is sufficient to back the amendments tabled by Stephen Phillips, which give the Home Secretary a duty to assess whether EU immigration is excessive, and to assess the effects of new countries joining the EU.

These amendments have been presented as ‘interesting’ backbench amendments by Number 10, but there is a suspicion that they may have had some official help. At any rate, the Prime Minister does instinctively want to support the amendments and I am told that he and Nick Clegg have been holding discussions about how both parties can deal with the Phillips amendments and will continue to do so in the coming days. The Liberal Democrats do not support them.

The rationale behind this is that amendments tabled by backbenchers could attract more support from dedicated rebels than an official government amendment (plus it’s a way of keeping the Lib Dems calm). Whips hope that they can siphon off enough support from the main Mills amendment to these side amendments. There is a big problem with this though. The Phillips amendments are not incompatible with the Mills amendments, which means many MPs may just choose to support both.

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