Politics

Tory MPs trooped purposefully through the voting lobbies on Monday night to knock down all the Lords’ amendments which had threatened to rip the Rwanda bill to shreds.

It was without the drama of the last vote in January, when three Tory figures resigned their posts and dozens signed amendments to toughen up the bill.

Depending on whether the peers dig in on their amendments when it returns to the Lords on Wednesday, the legislation could be on the home straight now.

But the Tory Party‘s prospects look anything but.

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Number 10’s hope is that the bill can be passed by next week, before the Easter recess, and Rishi Sunak has a chance of getting flights off “by Spring”.

A cabinet minister described it to me tonight as “very crucial” that the scheme is seen to get going, almost two years after Boris Johnson announced it in April 2022, and 14 months since Mr Sunak made it one of his five priorities to “stop the boats”.

But after a torrid week featuring the defection of Lee Anderson to the Reform Party; a racism row featuring the Tory donor Frank Hester and reports of a plot to replace the prime minister with one-time leadership rival Penny Mordaunt, many Tories are sceptical that anything can shift the dial.

Mr Sunak today gave a speech at a business event to try and convince voters – and wavering Tories – that the economy is “turning a corner” and will “bounce back” in 2024.

He insisted that the party was not divided and that “all Conservatives are united in wanting to deliver a brighter future”.

Read more:
Rwanda bill amendments rejected by Commons
Cost of stalled Rwanda asylum scheme could soar to £500m
Talk of changing Tory leader is getting louder

Image:
The government wants to get flights off the ground this year. Pic: AP

But the weekend has seen reports swirling about a plot to oust Mr Sunak and install leader of the Commons Penny Mordaunt as prime minister – either to stem Tory losses or as a stalking horse for another candidate.

Her allies have denied there is any such attempt, and senior Tories insist these stories are being pushed by a small minority of disgruntled Tories.

Tory MPs I spoke to on Monday from all wings of the party mostly say any attempt to remove the prime minister would look “bonkers” and potentially make things worse.

But discontent and despair are deepening. A Savanta poll puts the Tories on 25% – the level they were in the final week of Liz Truss’s premiership.

Ben Wallace, the respected former defence secretary who is standing down at the next election, warned his colleagues it was too late to replace Mr Sunak and implied they should accept their fate.

“There comes a moment in time in the electoral cycle where you effectively put on your best suit, you stand up and you march towards the sound of the guns and you get on with it”, he said.

Perceived missteps by Downing Street have darkened the mood – with MPs pointing to the handling of the Hester issue as “self-inflicted damage”, as one senior Tory put it.

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Number 10 still hopes to get flights to Rwanda off in the spring, in a matter of weeks. Although many fear that delays in Lords, or legal challenges could still stand in its way.

With minds focused on the election, a few weeks is a long time in politics.

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