Boris Johnson takes revenge on Rishi Sunak as he joins right-wing rebels demanding changes to Rwanda bill

Boris Johnson backs revolt, as Robert Jenrick warns PM he is on ‘last chance’ to fix deportation plan

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 16 January 2024 18:32 GMT
Tory rebel Robert Jenrick ‘prepared’ to vote against Rishi Sunak's Rwanda bill

Support truly
independent journalism

Our mission is to deliver unbiased, fact-based reporting that holds power to account and exposes the truth.

Whether $5 or $50, every contribution counts.

Support us to deliver journalism without an agenda.

Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Boris Johnson launched an attempt to sabotage Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda plan by throwing his support behind right-wing Conservative MPs trying to force the PM into last-minute changes.

A growing number of Tory hardliners have threatened to vote against the government and send Mr Sunak’s premiership into crisis if Mr Sunak refuses to toughen up the legislation.

Robert Jenrick and other rebels said they are ready to defy the government at Wednesday’s showdown vote on the PM’s flagship deportation plan.

Fellow hardliner Simon Clarke said he wasn’t “f**king around” and vowed to vote against the bill if remains unamended. “Simple as that,” he tweeted on X.

And Mr Johnson – at odds with Mr Sunak ever since he was kicked out of No 10 – twisted the knife by offering his support to the Tory rebels. “This bill must be as legally robust as possible – and the right course is to adopt the amendments,” the former PM said on X, formerly Twitter.

Dozens of senior Tory MPs on the right – including former PM Liz Truss, ex-home secretary Suella Braverman, former leader Iain Duncan Smith and ex-cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg – have gathered in parliament on Tuesday night to discuss how to vote.

Tory rebels claimed there could be more than 30 MPs willing to defy Mr Sunak and hand him a humiliating Commons defeat if he does not back down.

John Hayes MP, the Common Sense Group leader, told The Independent: “It is difficult to vote for it unamended. It’s very hard to vote for something you don’t think is going to work.”

Rishi Sunak is refusing to make any changes to flagship Rwanda bill
Rishi Sunak is refusing to make any changes to flagship Rwanda bill (PA Wire)

Over 65 right-wingers backed the amendments tabled by Mr Jenrick. It would take just 29 Tory MPs to overturn Mr Sunak’s 56-seat majority and defeat the government at the final Commons vote on Wednesday.

One senior Tory rebel said Mr Sunak’s last-ditch promise of 150 judges to speed up deportation cases had “backfired” by hardening sceptical MPs against Mr Sunak’s plan.

The hardliner told The Independent: “Even if half of the 65 signatories voted against the bill it would be enough to defeat the government – the government should be aware it’s possible if they don’t accept amendments.”

They added: “A defeat would be very serious for the prime minister. It would probably mean Labour putting forward a no-confidence vote in the Commons. Nobody in the party wants that.”

Tory whips were said to be in “overdrive” trying to persuade MPs to back the government. The government does not plan to accept any of the rebel amendments – but could still produce its own changes, or even delay the crunch vote if they are facing defeat.

Mr Hayes – often described as Suella Braverman’s mentor – said rebel MPs were “increasingly enthusiastic about our position”. He added: “The government could produce their own amendment or delay [the vote]. They would be wise to do so.”

Robert Jenrick said Sunak had ‘last opportunity’ to fix flawed bill
Robert Jenrick said Sunak had ‘last opportunity’ to fix flawed bill (PA Wire)

Mr Jenrick warned in the Commons that attempts by the right to strengthen the Rwanda plan were Mr Sunak’s “last opportunity” to stop small boat crossings.

The ex-immigration minister – who quit over the “weak” legislation – said he could see “no reason” why the PM could not accept his amendments and fix the flaws in his Rwanda plan “once and for all”.

The hardliner said: “I am prepared to vote against the bill... because this bill doesn’t work, and I do believe that a better bill is possible.”

In a last-ditch attempt to calm hardliners’ concerns, Mr Sunak’s justice secretary Alex Chalk said he has asked more judges to be appointed to the first-tier and upper tribunal to speed up courts dealing with migrant appeals.

It is understood 150 judges could be brought in to deal with cases. The judiciary has identified judges which could provide 5,000 additional sitting days while extra space had been prepared.

But senior Tory MP Danny Kruger, co-founder of the New Conservatives, has rebels were not satisfied by Mr Sunak’s assurances that he is prepared to ignore European judges or boost the number of judges.

“I’m afraid I’m not yet satisfied by what we’ve heard from the PM,” he told GB News. “We really hope that the government has listened to us and is prepared to concede and ideally adopt the amendments as its own.”

Miriam Cates – co-founder of the New Conservatives group – told BBC the desparate courts move showed that the government “is expecting a large number of individual claims.”

Boris Johnson added to Sunak’s woes by backing rebels
Boris Johnson added to Sunak’s woes by backing rebels (AFP via Getty Images)

Former justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland – a leading One Nation moderate – said Mr Sunak should keep calm and carry on. “It would be best advised not to accept any of the amendments from my colleagues on the right.”

Tory deputy chairmen Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith have put their own party posts at risk by backing changes to bill. Michael Gove sought to play down Tory divisions. The levelling up secretary said he was “pretty sure” Mr Anderson would still be in post at the next election.

“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,” the cabinet minister told Times Radio.

In a further blow to the PM, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the Rwanda bill and recently signed treaty with Kigali was “not compatible” with international refugee law.

Foreign secretary David Cameron said that the UN Refugee Convention was “written for another age” as he defended the “out of the box” and “quite unorthodox” Rwanda bill in the Lords.

Lord Cameron told peers: “We do not believe the Rwanda scheme is contrary to international law … It is within the law, it is novel, but I believe it can work.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in