• Thursday, July 25, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

EXCLUSIVE: Tory party told to “unite or die”

Rwanda Bill criticism is a ruse by some tories for post-election ambitions, says Asian backbench MP

POLITICAL PRESSURE: Stopping the small boats was one of Sunak’s key pledges after becoming prime minister (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

By: BARNIE CHOUDHURY and SARWAR ALAM

A LEADING Conservative parliamentarian has warned fellow Tory politicians they face a decision to either “unify or die” as party infighting threatens to derail the leadership of prime minister, Rishi Sunak.

On Tuesday (12) Sunak narrowly won in his latest plans to send migrants to Rwanda.

The way in which he intends to honour one of his five pledges to “stop the boats” has split his party.

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill is Sunak’s answer to a Supreme Court judgement last month that deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda was illegal in international law.

MPs voted in favour of the bill by 313 to 269 – a majority of 44 – but 37 Tories abstained.

“It’s a death wish,” the Tory parliamentarian told Eastern Eye when asked about the current divisions within the party.

“There are enough people (MPs) through guerrilla warfare to wound Rishi Sunak enough that he goes into an election looking weak and a lame duck.”

But the battle to keep migration numbers down has deeply divided Tories.

Moderates are worried about Britain breaching its human rights obligations, while those on the right wing who contend it does not go far enough.

Defeat in Tuesday’s vote (as Eastern Eye went to press) could have put Sunak’s premiership in jeopardy.

This could still happen if Sunak cannot unite the party when it comes to the third reading of the bill, said sources.

Stopping the boats

Sunak took to X, formerly known as Twitter, immediately after his victory.

“The British people should decide who gets to come to this country – not criminal gangs or foreign courts,” he posted.

“That’s what this bill delivers.

“We will now work to make it law so that we can get flights going to Rwanda and stop the boats.”

                                               Courtesy: Parliament TV

Robert Jenrick, who quit as immigration minister last week saying the bill was too weak, told parliament on Tuesday.

“The test of this policy is not ‘is it the strongest bill we’ve done?’. It’s not ‘is it a good compromise?’. It’s ‘will it work?’

“That is all the public care about.”

The bill aims to address the Supreme Court’s concerns by legislating that Rwanda is a safe country.

The government’s attempts to cut record levels of legal and illegal migration is likely to be a key issue at next year’s election.

But by seeking to declare Rwanda safe – despite concerns from human rights monitors, and removing legal challenges to deportation orders – Sunak has triggered deep factional Tory in-fighting not seen since wrangling over what form Brexit should take, according to former solicitor-general, Lord [Edward] Garnier.

INSET 1 Lord Edward Garnier
Lord Edward Garnier

“Right-wing ruse”

A backbench MP told Eastern Eye the Rwanda Bill was a ruse for members of the right-wing of the Tory Party to topple Sunak.

“The problem that Rishi has got is it’s not just about a vote in parliament anymore, this is effectively about wanting to bring his government down,” said the MP.

The senior source added, “They are using the safety of the Rwanda bill as a Trojan horse to basically make the case leave the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rather than actually fix the Rwanda problem.

“If they choose not to vote for this bill, it actually sends a signal that this was never about Rwanda, this was all about them crashing the government and their own personal ambitions.”

Sacked home secretary, Suella Braverman, said the Tories face “electoral oblivion” as she claimed the bill is “destined to fail”.

The backbench MP told Eastern Eye that Braverman was “deflecting” blame for her own failings on the Rwanda bill.

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Opinion polls put Labour in a commanding position ahead of general elections due next year (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

The legislation has been stuck in the courts since the first deportees were pulled off a flight at the last minute in June 2022, after an injunction from the European Court of Human Rights.

“You’ve got his (Sunak’s) previous home secretary going public and annihilating him in a very crude and unprofessional way blaming him for this work and not taking responsibility herself,” said the MP.

“Her modus operandi from day one was just pointing the fingers at everyone else and saying ‘this is not my fault.”

They continued, “At this point, this is all on him (Sunak) now.”

“Given up”

One south Asian parliamentarian told Eastern Eye the rhetoric of some Tory MPs was down to their having already “given up” on the general election, scheduled for next year.

The Conservatives have had five prime ministers since the 2016 Brexit vote, and they currently trail Labour by 20 points.

“If you feel the prospects of a victory are already written off and are calculating the next move, or positioning for leadership post and for the ideological battle that will ensue for the soul of the Conservative Party, then this is just an early a warm-up exercise in anticipation of post-election machinations,” said the parliamentarian.

“They’re not really that interested in going into a 2024 election in a way that maximises the chances of winning because they’ve discounted that already.”

INSET Keir Starmer 2B GettyImages 1841952253
The latest data from YouGov shows that 18 per cent of the public believe Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will win the next election by a landslide (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Had Sunak lost, it would have been the first time a government lost its first Commons vote — known as second reading — since 1986, when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister.

Lord Garnier said it was “politically stupid” for Tory MPs to vote against the bill, but he felt that even if it does get through the draft stages in parliament, it was unlikely to work in “practicality”.

“Parliament can pass a law which says that all dogs are cats, and as far as English law is concerned, from then on, all dogs are cats.

“However, what you can’t do by an act of parliament is alter the treaty arrangements with other sovereign states,” the peer told Eastern Eye.

“The European Convention does not have to accept that Rwanda is a safe place, just because the United Kingdom parliament has asserted that it is.

“It won’t work, in that sense.

“It will work in terms of a piece of domestic law that makes an assertion, it’s unlikely to work as a matter of practical immigration, asylum policy.”

He added, “This is not scientific evidence, it’s just my gut feeling that this is going to drag and it may well be that it drags on too long that the government will just say ‘it’s all too difficult’ and blame the House of Lords, blame the lefty lawyers and will go to the elections saying, ‘we did our best, but the forces against us were too powerful’.”

“Not a politician”

A back-bench MP criticised the prime minister, saying his lack of experience was the reason for instability within his government.

“I think fundamentally, he’s not a politician, he’s just an ambitious young man who landed on his feet in the way that he did – he’s not political, he’s not a politician.

“All his crises, his week-to-week crises, are a result from the fact that he’s not a political player.

“He’s just assumed office, he has never won a leadership election.

“He has never understood or grasped political issues that could actually make a difference to people, it was very much all about positioning.”

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Tories will be “totally idiotic” to get rid of Sunak, says Lord Garnier (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

There is speculation in Westminster that Sunak may be forced into a snap election in the early part of 2024 if he struggles to get the Rwanda bill through parliament.

The latest data from YouGov shows that 18 per cent of the public believe Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will win the next election by a landslide, compared with just eight per cent who think the Tories will narrowly hold on to power.

“This is going to be quite interesting from the perspective of where it leaves Rishi and what he might choose to do, because it’s showing that quite frankly, the MPs are coming together, because they’re seeing nothing shifting in the opinion polls,” said the backbench MP.

“This is all about crashing the government into installing another leader.”

Lord Garnier defended Sunak, saying the Tories will be “totally idiotic” to get rid of him.

“If a politician is someone with a frequent use of stabbing (people) in the back and in it for himself, well, I’m glad he’s not a politician,” he said.

“Rishi Sunak is a very good prime minister, he works hard, he understands things, and he can make decisions.”

Lord Garnier was also impressed with Sunak’s appearance on Monday (11) in front of the Covid inquiry.

He said, “It’s quite interesting that he hasn’t sought to make personal remarks about Boris Johnson or the civil servants and the government scientists.”

Miracles

One south Asian Tory parliamentarian admitted that while they think that, at the moment, it looks like it will take a “miracle” for Sunak to win the next general election, there is still time for the party to make in-roads in garnering the support of voters.

“He’s partly sort of cast the die of his own fate because of his pledges.

“But he needs to find a way of refocusing on the immigration side and not to make the Rwanda scheme the be all and end all because it isn’t.

“Whipping up anti-immigration sentiment isn’t going to be in the long-term interests of the country.

“I would actually refocus on the economy, reducing NHS waiting list, that the voters really care about and will vote for in the ballot box in the general election.”

Addressing the Tory party, the parliamentarian said, “There is no alternative to backing Rishi and the more they get behind him the more fighting chance they give him because the Tory brand is so toxic and the polls will show this.

“The next election can only be fought as a presidential election, in which you’re effectively putting up one prime ministerial candidate in Rishi, who’s not as popular as he was initially, but is still more popular than the Tory party, and put him up against Starmer.

“So, you’ve got a banker against a lawyer, which at least is a choice.”

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