It turns out that Tory backbenchers aren’t all mouth and no trousers, as Downing Street thought. After briefing that the right of the party was all talk, Rishi Sunak’s team watched this evening as around 60 rebels repeatedly trooped through the opposite lobbies to vote to toughen up the Rwanda Bill. The breakdown of those rebellions is as follows: 68 MPs, including 60 Tories (two of which were tellers), voted in favour of Bill Cash’s amendment, which would allow the government to deport people to Rwanda even if it went against the European Convention on Human Rights and other international law, with 529 MPs voting it down. Then 58 Tory MPs backed Robert Jenrick’s amendment which would limit the ability of asylum seekers to challenge their deportation orders: that one was defeated by 525 votes.
MPs were rattled by the No. 10 briefings that these amendments would be nothing more than dramatic briefings followed by damp squibs in the lobbies. It’s always a mistake for Downing Street to pretend it knows backbenchers’ minds better than they do. It’s also always a mistake to claim victory before a result. The amendments were always going to be defeated with Labour joining with the government to vote them down, but the question was how many Tory MPs would think it important to show they wanted a tougher Rwanda Bill. They also felt as though the Prime Minister had misled them by telling them he would genuinely consider the amendments they brought – only to reject them when they were actually tabled.
The two questions now are whether the MPs who rebelled tonight and will rebel on the second committee day tomorrow are then prepared to vote down the Bill when it goes to third reading.