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Rishi Sunak seeks to charm Tory MPs to avoid Rwanda splitPublished1 hour agocommentsCommentsShareclose panelShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesImage caption, Mr Sunak has made deterring migrants from crossing the Channel one of his key prioritiesBy Becky Morton & Henry ZeffmanBBC PoliticsRishi Sunak is facing a battle to persuade Tory MPs to back his flagship Rwanda bill, ahead of a key vote later. The prime minister is holding a breakfast summit at Downing Street to try to convince potential rebels to support the legislation. The bill seeks to revive the government’s plan to send some asylum seekers to the east African country. MPs on the right of the party have said it does not go far enough and will not work in its current form. But more centrist MPs warned against any changes which would breach international law.Former defence secretary Ben Wallace has urged his fellow Tory MPs not to “wreck” the government by voting down the bill. Writing in the Telegraph, he warned against “making the perfect (but unrealistic) the enemy of the good”. Labour leader Keir Starmer said the government has “lost control of our borders”, telling BBC Breakfast: “The most effective thing we can do is to smash the criminal gangs running this vile trade and putting people in boats in the first place.” Sir Keir – who is making a speech on the issue later on Tuesday – said claims had to be processed more quickly to reduce the asylum claims backlog, and that people should be removed to the country they came from if that claim is rejected. He said the £290m Rwanda scheme was a “gimmick”, describing it as “performance art”, and added that the money could be better used on extra cross-border policing. Former attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox told BBC Newsnight that “if we go on like this of course we’re going to switch off millions of people upon whose votes we depend”.He told the programme: “This bill is the beginnings of the solution to the problem… We need to unite – improve it – but get it through.”The Safety of Rwanda Bill faces its first Parliamentary test – known as its second reading – on Tuesday evening, when MPs get a chance to debate and vote on its main principles.The government says the aim of the policy is to deter migrants from crossing the Channel and it is central to the plan to “stop the boats” – which Mr Sunak has made one of his key priorities. A rebellion by Tory MPs could sink the scheme and severely damage the prime minister’s authority. How much trouble is PM in over Rwanda bill?Why does the UK want to send asylum seekers to Rwanda?Chris Mason analysis: PM’s authority is on the lineAmong those on the right of the party, the New Conservatives group said the bill required “major surgery or replacement”.More than 40 members met on Monday evening to discuss how they would vote. Several MPs leaving the meeting said they were deciding between abstaining or voting against the bill. Two MPs said the group had the numbers to vote the legislation down and that only one or two in the meeting had spoken in support of voting for the bill.It is members of this group who are due to meet Mr Sunak on Tuesday morning.Earlier, the European Research Group – an influential group of Tory MPs also on the party’s right – said the bill provided an “incomplete solution” to the problem of legal challenges that could be mounted against individuals being sent to Rwanda. It said “very significant amendments” would be needed.The group has not yet decided how it will vote. Media caption, Watch: Mark Francois and David Jones of the European Research Group calls on the government to scrap the billAgreeing to the demands of MPs on the right of the party would risk losing the support of more centrist Tories, however. The centrist One Nation group, which includes more than 100 Tory MPs, said it was recommending its members vote for the bill at this stage.But the group said it would oppose any future amendments “that would mean the UK government breaching the rule of law and its international obligations”.Group chairman and former deputy prime minister Damian Green urged the government to “stand firm against any attempt to amend the bill in a way that would make it unacceptable to those who believe that support for the rule of law is a basic Conservative principle”. It is very rare for a bill to be defeated at its first Commons hurdle and this has not happened since 1986. However, Labour and opposition parties have already said they will try and vote it down, meaning the government needs to ensure enough Tory MPs vote for it to allow it to pass.Tory critics could decide to allow the bill to pass at this stage, possibly by abstaining, in the hope of securing concessions from the government as it goes through the Commons.But some MPs who previously appeared inclined to back the government in Tuesday’s vote, in the hope of amending the bill at a later stage, now seem much more pessimistic about that possibility.”There’s no way we’d have the votes to amend it next year,” one Tory MP told the BBC. “It’s now or never.”If there are enough rebels to inflict a defeat this would be near-apocalyptic for Mr Sunak in political terms.That prospect may be enough for him to withdraw the bill completely. Going ahead with the vote and being defeated would potentially presage a leadership election, perhaps even a general election.Those around the PM acknowledge the numbers are tight but say they are confident they can win and insist they are not going to pull the vote.Can the new Rwanda bill work and what could stop it?The government introduced the emergency legislation last week, after the Rwanda policy was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court.The bill seeks to stop flights being blocked on legal grounds, by declaring in UK law that Rwanda is a safe country. Those who want it to go further argue it is still open to legal challenge by individuals, if they can provide compelling evidence their personal circumstances mean they would be at risk of serious harm if they were removed to Rwanda. In an attempt to win over critics, the government took the unusual step of publishing a summary of its own legal advice on the scheme. That says the bill allows for “an exceptionally narrow route to individual challenge” – but that to block all court challenges “would be a breach of international law”.It gives examples such as people in the late stages of pregnancy who are unfit to fly or with very rare medical conditions that could not be cared for in Rwanda.However, critics argue that even if only some of these claims succeed, they would still clog up the courts and delay removals.Related TopicsUK immigrationImmigrationRefugees and asylum seekersRwandaMore on this storyRwanda law doesn’t go far enough, Tory group saysPublished15 hours agoHow much trouble is PM in over Rwanda bill?Published12 hours agoWhy does the UK want to send asylum seekers to Rwanda?Published3 days agoCan the new Rwanda bill work and what could stop it?Published5 days ago

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