Rwanda: Is it make or break for Rishi Sunak in Downing Street?

A loss tonight could be hugely destabilising for Rishi Sunak. Credit: PA

There is a febrile mood in parliament, of the kind that hasn't been felt for some time.

Inside Downing Street, there is one message they are trying to convey - just how make or break this could be for the prime minister.

Some believe that this message will get them through, with the Bill passing tonight when it goes to a vote at around 7pm.

But the unrest on the right of Rishi Sunak's party is highly significant - and that is why this is a day of epic lobbying.

After the PM's own breakfast with key members of the so called New Conservatives - which is a group of MPs who were elected in the wake of Brexit in 2017 and 2019 (and who argue this issue is totemic for their voters) - there was the usual Cabinet meeting.

Then at 10.15am, a meeting of senior ministers with key figures from five Tory groups.

As well as the New Cons, that includes the European Research Group (ERG) - that rocked Theresa May's government through repeated Brexit votes - and the Common Sense Group on the right of the party, who will meet ministers in the chief whip's office in parliament.

One senior member of those groups told me the government had failed to engage, and they were relieved to finally get some facetime with ministers.

They worry that the Bill is designed to get one half-empty plane to Rwanda, but insist that will not provide the deterrent needed. 

"There must be regular, full planes, to prevent people coming," they told me.

They want the Bill totally withdrawn because they fear that its limited scope will prevent amendments.

But they hope that ministers will withdraw it, because they admit that a loss tonight would be hugely destabilising for Mr Sunak.

Sacked home secretary Suella Braverman voted against the Rwanda Bill at third reading Credit: Phil Noble/PA

There are some on the rebel side - who don't mind a bit of instability for the PM - who are still scarred by the way Liz Truss was ousted and he came to power.

And there is also the fury of Suella Braverman - who was sacked as Home Secretary - and Robert Jenrick - who stepped down as immigration minister.

They argue that deportation flights could be delayed by a year because the Bill leaves open the possibility of individual claims.

For many of these MPs, the Bill must be strengthened, with one idea to expand it to include any country with whom the UK negotiates a new Treaty.

After all, even with changes, everyone knows that Rwanda has limited capacity. One MP claimed Morocco was keen to sign up next.

For the PM, he is balancing that with the pressures of his One Nation group, who are backing today's Bill but say they may not if it is toughened any further.

They have 106 members and want international law to be respected.

Home Secretary James Cleverly listening as Rishi Sunak outlines the details of the revised Rwanda legislation. Credit: PA

When they met last night, it was one of their own, Attorney General Victoria Prentis, who persuaded them to vote with the government.

She pointed out that there was a reason she had stayed in government (as has justice secretary Alex Chalk) while Robert Jenrick - who argued to strengthen the legislation - had resigned.

So Mr Sunak is in the tricky position of struggling to go further than he has, because that would simply initiate another rebellion.

One of their grouping told me: "It's absolute chaos here (in parliament). Reality is dashing itself on the rocks of ideological purity."

Some on the right argue the 106 figure is misleading, claiming that when the One Nation group met last night "we only counted 20 going in". But clearly the PM is being pulled in two directions.

Many in between are urging their colleagues to vote with the PM - including Priti Patel, Ben Wallace and others.

One MP told me: "If it falls, where do we go on boats? If it falls - we are probably heading to an earlier election."

And that is one key point that is swirling heavily today - and the point that gives Downing Street most hope that things will be ok.

One party figure said to me, "I think we will be ok - it's dawning on people how high the stakes are."

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