May 26, 2024

Rishi Sunak Faces Internal Rebellion as Tory Deputy Chairs Resign Over Rwanda Legislation

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Jan 17, 2024

Deputies Resign in Protest Over “Profoundly Troubling” Asylum Seeker Policy

Rishi Sunak is facing an internal revolt in his party as two Conservative deputy chairs, Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith, resigned on Monday in protest of amendments made to the government’s controversial Rwanda asylum legislation.

The Nationality and Borders Act, which aims to deter illegal immigration by allowing the government to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing, barely passed through Parliament on Tuesday night after Conservative backbenchers forced major changes.

Some MPs called the policy “profoundly troubling” while others warned it could lead to legal repercussions down the line due to ongoing lawsuits over the legality of forcibly removing asylum seekers.

Sunak Struggles to Maintain Party Unity

The battle within Sunak’s party highlights the deep divisions that remain after months of turbulence under predecessors Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. Sunak warned Conservative rebels that their resistance to the Rwanda policy threatens the party’s chances in the next election, writing to all Tory MPs:

“Delivering for the British people is paramount, and there is no thicker manifesto pledge for the Conservatives to cut illegal migration than our longstanding policy to reform the broken asylum system.”

He said amendments drove “a coach and horses through the UK’s policy for the removal of those with no right to be here”.

Nonetheless, Sunak suffered his largest rebellion yet since taking power in October, displaying his limited control over the various factions within his party. The slim margin of victory also calls into question whether the policy will survive expected legal challenges.

What Comes Next for Rishi Sunak?

While Sunak succeeded in narrowly getting the Rwanda legislation approved, this battle has made enemies within the party and cast further doubt on his leadership capabilities.

Some key factors may determine what comes next for the embattled Prime Minister:

  • By-Election Outcome: Sunak faces his first electoral test since taking power with an upcoming by-election in Chester. A defeat here could spur more internal discontent and rebellion.

  • Legal Challenges: Several lawsuits question the legality of forcibly removing asylum seekers to Rwanda under international laws. If courts strike down the policy, it would be a huge political embarrassment for Sunak.

Key Court Cases Challenging Rwanda Policy Status
Asylum seekers & refugee organizations Judge found “substantial grounds” for appeal
Public services union PCS Hearings underway
NGOs Detention Action and Care4Calais Awaiting judgement
  • Tory Party Unity: Sunak must work to heal divisions and build consensus within his party. Further rebellions could destabilize his leadership and the government.

While Sunak succeeded in getting the Rwanda legislation passed, the political price may have been high. His leadership faces ongoing threats from all sides as he tries to maintain control of a fractured party and pass complex legislation with a small majority. The policy itself still faces high risks of being struck down in the courts.

For now, Sunak’s fate hangs in the balance as he fights fires on multiple fronts.

Lee Anderson & Brendan Clarke-Smith: Who Are the Resigning MPs?

Lee Anderson has been the Conservative MP for Ashfield since 2019, when he flipped a longstanding Labour seat. His views align with the right wing of the Tory party on issues like Brexit and immigration.

Brendan Clarke-Smith is the MP for Bassetlaw, having gained the former Labour safe seat for the Tories in 2019 like Anderson. He previously worked as a school teacher.

Both were made deputy chairs under Rishi Sunak late last year and emphasized law, order and policing in their roles. However, they found themselves increasingly at odds with Sunak’s centrist approach.

What Drove Their Resignations Over Rwanda?

In resignation letters, Anderson and Clarke-Smith warned Sunak his concessions on the Rwanda legislation amounted to a broken manifesto promise on illegal immigration.

Anderson said the legislation was now “unworkable” and would leave the UK “open to countless legal claims and challenges”. He criticized Sunak for making concessions “to appease a small but vocal and unrepresentative group”.

Meanwhile, Clarke-Smith said the compromise made the legislation “not fit for purpose” in fulfilling border control promises to voters.

“I regret that we have broken key pledges that our manifesto made to voters on immigration policy and ending illegal migration,” Clarke-Smith wrote.

Their resignations underscore the deep divisions within the party between centrist pragmatists allied with Sunak and right-wing Brexiteers unwilling to compromise on issues like immigration.

What Happens Now for Sunak & Tories?

In the wake of the Rwanda vote and resignations, Rishi Sunak’s leadership remains on shaky ground:

  • He succeeded in passing the bill, but concessions could render it toothless in deterring illegal immigration.

  • Legal challenges still threaten to invalidate the entire policy, causing political humiliation.

  • Losing two deputy chairs highlights Sunak’s weakness in holding his party together, signaling future rebellions.

Sunak wrote to Tory MPs asking them to “come together in the national interest”, but unity remains elusive. He may lose more political capital if challenging policies like Rwanda fail.

With the next general election little more than 18 months away, Sunak faces a narrow path to maintain unity while delivering on promises that earned his party a large majority in 2019 – promises now looking increasingly difficult to fulfill. The turbulent saga over Rwanda underscores how tenuous his position remains.




AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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