UK

Rishi Sunak has avoided a damaging Tory rebellion over his flagship Rwanda bill in a crunch vote in the Commons.

The totemic legislation, which aims to revive the stalled £290m deportation scheme after the Supreme Court ruled it unlawful, has been backed by MPs at its second reading by 313 votes to 269, a majority of 44.

Follow live: Reaction and fallout to MPs’ vote on Rwanda bill

The result will come as a huge relief to the prime minister, who spent today holding crisis talks with various factions of the Tory right to persuade them to back the bill.

The division list showed 38 Tories abstained but none voted against it, despite swathes of them trashing it in recent days and former immigration minister Robert Jenrick even resigning in protest over it.

However, it means another battle is likely further down the line given the hardliners who abstained are demanding amendments to toughen up the legislation by blocking interference from foreign courts – something moderates from the opposite wing have said they will not support.

The bill seeks to declare in UK law that Rwanda is a safe country to send asylum seekers to, and stop flights being grounded for legal reasons by allowing ministers to disapply sections of the UK’s Human Rights Act (though not the European Convention on Human Rights, which some on the right are calling for).

More on Rwanda

Moments before MPs started voting, dozens of Tory hardliners from the so-called “five families” factions said they did not support the plan and the bulk of them would abstain tonight.

They said they will aim to table amendments in the new year which should “materially improve the bill and remove some of its weaknesses” – and warned they will vote down the legislation at its third reading if these changes don’t pass.

That means Mr Sunak could face a fight on his hands in January when the bill comes back before parliament.

The One Nation caucus of around 100 moderate MPs have said they won’t support the bill if it becomes more hardline.

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Right wing Tories say “bulk” will abstain from vote

And Home Secretary James Cleverly has suggested the legislation already “pushed at the edge of the envelope” on international law – so any changes would have to be within the current legal framework.

Rwanda has also told the UK government it will withdraw from the treaty if the UK were to breach its “international obligations”.

Despite a fresh row likely in the new year, government ministers were buoyed by the result of the vote tonight.

Given the government’s working majority of 56, a revolt by 29 Tory MPs, or 57 abstentions, would have been required to defeat the bill at its first Commons hurdle – something that has not happened to a piece of legislation since 1986.

There appeared to be nerves in Downing Street this morning with climate change minister Graham Stuart flown back from last-ditch talks at the Cop28 summit in Dubai to vote for the legislation.

But the outcome proved more comfortable than initially feared for Rishi Sunak.

The prime minister tweeted that he will now work to make the bill law “so that we can get flights going to Rwanda and stop the boats”.

Mr Cleverly said: “Parliament has spoken. We must be able to choose who comes to our country – not criminal gangs. That’s what this bill will deliver.”

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