Fresh blow for Sunak’s authority as Tory deputy chairmen resign over Rwanda vote

The resignations could be a very serious blow for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, as ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston reports

Rishi Sunak’s authority has been dealt a fresh blow as two Tory deputy chairmen resigned to join a major Conservative rebellion over his Bill aimed at reviving the stalled Rwanda plan.

Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith stepped down in order to vote for two amendments that right-wing MPs claim will protect the Government’s flagship asylum policy from legal challenge.

Jane Stevenson also quit her role as a parliamentary private secretary in the Department for Business and Trade to back changes put forward by Conservative backbenchers.

In a joint-letter, the duo said that "whilst our main wish is to strengthen the legislation, this means that in order to vote for amendments we will therefore need to offer you our resignations from our roles".

They added it was "important in terms of credibility that we are consistent" on arguing that safeguards must be put in place to ensure the government's flagship asylum policy is legally watertight.

Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith stepped down on Tuesday. Credit: PA

The resignations come as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, on Tuesday evening, suffered a fresh blow to his authority, as 68 MPs - including 60 Tories - voted in favour of the changes proposed by Conservative Sir Bill Cash.

The amendments aimed to ensure UK and international law cannot be used to prevent or delay a person being removed to Rwanda.

Former prime minister Liz Truss was among the Tories who backed the amendments, which she claimed would have helped beef up the Safety of Rwanda Bill.

The campaign to rewrite the legislation, led by former immigration minister Robert Jenrick, was further supported by former ministers Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, Suella Braverman and Simon Clarke.

Jane Stevenson, a parliamentary private secretary in the Department for Business and Trade, also confirmed she would vote for the amendments, saying before the vote "I'm going to turn my fire" on Mr Sunak.

Ms Stevenson, an MP for Wolverhampton North East, has since said she will resign from her party role.

A Downing Street source said the PM "accepts" both Mr Anderson and Mr Clarke-Smith's resignations and expresses his gratitude for their "dedication and hard work for the Conservtaive Party".

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"This is the toughest legislation ever brought before Parliament to tackle illegal migration," the source added.

"This bill will make it clear that if you come here illegally you will not be able to stay. We must pass this bill to deliver what all Conservatives want - a credible plan to stop the boats."

The United Nations (UN) high commissioner for refugees has already said that, even unamended, the Bill and recently signed treaty with Rwanda would still violate global refugee law.

Under the government's plan, migrants who cross the English Channel on small boats could be sent on a one-way trip to Rwanda rather than being allowed to try to seek asylum in the UK.

The legislation and the treaty are intended to make the government's plan legally watertight, following a Supreme Court ruling against it last year.

Former PM Liz Truss was among the Tory MPs to rebel against Mr Sunak. Credit: PA

The prime minister will now have to convince Tory rebels to vote in favour of the legislation as a whole at its final Commons hurdle - the third reading - which is due on Wednesday.

But some senior figures have said they will vote down the legislation if it is not changed.

Sir Simon said he was not "f****** around" and declared: "I will vote against if the legislation isn't amended. Simple as that."

Labour said the Tory resignations show that even senior members of the party believe "the Conservatives have failed" and accused Mr Sunak of weakness.

Pat McFadden MP, Labour's national campaign co-ordinator, said: "Rishi Sunak is too weak to lead his party and too weak to lead the country.

"These resignations show that even senior Tories think that the Conservatives have failed and is yet more evidence of the total Tory chaos over their failing Rwanda gimmick - yet they are still making the taxpayer pay the extortionate price."

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, said the prime minister has "again been embarrassed by his own MPs".

The party's home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said: "If the prime minister can't even settle squabbles in his own party, how can he be expected to run the country?"

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