A Tory rebel has denied being “duped” by the Prime Minister as she insisted he could still make changes to his Rwanda plan.
Miriam Cates, one of the key founding members of the right-wing New Conservative group, said she had been assured by Rishi Sunak that he was “open to negotiations” on changes to the bill. Members of the group, along with the other so-called “five-families” Conservative groups, had threatened to vote against the Rwanda bill in parliament, warning that they did not believe it would be strong enough to discourage small boat crossings into the UK.
Explaining her view, Ms Cates, MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, said on BBC Politics: “We have concerns about the way the bill is written on that that actually it wont have the impact that the Governmet says it will have.”
She added that she had been assured by the PM that his lawyers were “open to negotiations” on the scheme – and shot down accusations of being “duped” by him.
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The Rwanda scheme to fly illegal migrants to the east African country has become a key priority for Mr Sunak, and one that is under massive scrutiny.
The Prime Minister held an emergency press conference last week following the resignation of Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick – which itself came shortly after the resignation of Home Secretary Suella Braverman. Both had been pushing for the Government to legislate past the UK Supreme Court’s ruling that Rwanda would not be safe for migrants in order to enact the scheme.
Speaking to journalists, Mr Sunak said the difference between Mr Jenrick’s version of the plan and his own was just “an inch” – but that his was “the only approach”.
The PM said: “Going any further – that difference is an inch – but going any further would mean that Rwanda would collapse the scheme, and then we will have nowhere to send anyone to – and that is not a way to get this going.”
Ms Cates said Mr Sunak was “open to negotiations with our lawyers” as she explained the decision to abstain from the bill, rather than vote against it, in a clutch Parliament vote last night. She added: “We have decided to back the bill in good faith that those discussions will happen.”
But when BBC Politics host Jo Coburn responded: “The Prime Minister – even if he won’t detail what he said – was very clear, they’ll go no further. And you are saying that he’s open to big changes, so when it comes to being honest with your constituents here, I’m saying to you, are you being played by the Prime Minister, or have you secured something that we don’t know about and are going to find out about?”
Ms Cates shot down the accusation that she had been “duped” to prevent her voting against the bill.
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She said: “We’re not asking for big changes. The Government has already disapplied various aspects of international treaties in the first three clauses of the bill. We are asking for that to be extended to the fourth and fifth. In our view, that is not a major change. How the Rwandans see that, I’m not sure.”
Ms Cates also launched a fierce argument for ignoring the international law which declared Rwanda unsafe for migrants.
“Different views on Rwanda Bill come down to this: which is supreme?” she said. “Law made by Parliament, elected by British people, or international conventions? I think highest level of sovereignty, law, & loyalty lies with the nation, in this case the UK Parliament.”
Following her passionate plea, arch-Brexiteer David Frost responded: “Exactly right Miriam Cates and well said.”
Despite fears they would vote against the Government, members of several groups on the right wing of the party chose to abstain in the Commons on Tuesday, allowing it to pass its Second Reading by 313 votes to 269.
Top members of the so-called “five families” were seen arriving in No10 for an emergency breakfast meeting ahead of yesterday’s vote. About 15 Conservative MPs attended including Lee Anderson, Danny Kruger, Ms Cates, and Neil O’Brien.
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