Tory rebels have given PM a bloody nose over Rwanda – but will they torpedo his entire bill?

Politics

The prime minister was never going to lose the two amendment votes, but the results tonight would have been hard to hear.

On both rebel amendments, up to 60 of his own MPs told Rishi Sunak that his flagship illegal immigration plan doesn’t go far enough.

In parliament’s central lobby after the vote tonight, one rebel leader Mark Francois told me “the numbers speak for themselves”.

And it’s true that on this rebellion, the prime minister’s small boats policy would fall.

But giving the prime minister a bloody nose tonight over his flagship illegal immigration plan by siding with a rebel amendment is very different from voting with Labour against your own leader tomorrow, torpedoing his entire bill and throwing his government into freefall.

Number 10 is betting that, in the end, many of the rebels will pull their punches and avoid this showdown.

Politics latest: Truss and Braverman join rebellion on bruising night for PM’s Rwanda plan

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The plan remains for the bill to be unamended and voted on tomorrow evening.

Damian Green, the leader of the One Nation caucus of Conservatives, is clear what the prime minister must do.

He said: “I would strongly recommend the government to stand its ground, hold its nerve and put this bill through tomorrow. I think they will have the overwhelming support of Conservative MPs in doing it.”

On the rebel side there are those who think this too.

One senior right-winger told me on Tuesday night there was a small chance that the bill could fail “through accident rather than design”.

But far more likely is that colleagues hold their noses and vote it through in order not to potentially collapse, or at least paralyse, an already struggling prime minister.

Meanwhile, another senior rebel source effectively raised the white flag on Tuesday night as they told me they thought the prime minister would win the day.

But they warned he would pay a far bigger cost further down the line, in a sign of the tensions still at play – whatever happens on Wednesday.

“The question is what does it profit a prime minister to gain a bill but once and for all, lose the public’s trust on the boats and migration?” they said.

Read more:
Rwanda bill rebels – full list of Tories who voted for Cash amendment
Tory rebels have shown their hand – but will PM pull key Rwanda vote?

Because even if enough MPs fall into line to avoid a total Tory party blow up, the prime minister has failed to unite his party.

There are scores of his own MPs that feel failure to improve this bill will effectively serve up their P45s. They argue lapsed Tory voters won’t come back unless the boats are stopped.

Tory campaign chief Isaac Levido told MPs this week that the margin for victory could come down to the 20% of 2019 Tory voters still undecided on how to vote: win them over and the Conservatives are back in play for 2024.

But if he can’t get his own MPs to follow him, how can he convince the country?

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