Rebel Tories agreed to call off pushing a series of amendments to a vote on the Illegal Migrants Bill, having been given assurances from ministers that the Government will hold further talks over ways it could beef up the legislation to make it easier to deport asylum seekers who arrive in the UK on small boats.
The controversial Bill, which would effectively ban asylum applications outside pre-agreed settlement schemes, returned to the House of Commons for its committee stage on Monday night, with Downing Street facing objections to the proposals from both the liberal and the right wings of the Conservative benches.
The Prime Minister has agreed to consider ways the Bill could meet rebel concerns over the role of the courts in preventing the removal of migrants, but he is unlikely to cave into demands to ignore the rulings of European judges. It is thought ministers could produce their compromise when Parliament returns after the Easter recess.
One Tory insider said some right-wing rebels believe the Government is most likely to back an amendment to water down the powers of domestic courts, rather than moves to dilute the role of the ECHR.
They said rebels simply “don’t have the numbers” to take tougher action on the ECHR, suggesting enough Tory moderates could join Labour in blocking such a move.
The source said: “With the right wing, Rishi doesn’t want to look like he’s not in control of his own party so that’s why he’s willing to meet them.
“Because they are not going to win a vote unless the Government backs their amendment, that is simply the maths because no other party is going to back it.
“The Government equally don’t want to be seen as weak (on Channel crossings) as that would be existential with the electorate, so the happy medium is accepting whatever they can.”
A Government source said they did not recognise the insider’s claims on domestic courts, however.
Long-serving MP Sir Bill Cash, one of the right-wing Tories seeking amendments to the legislation, said he was trying to ensure the will of Parliament is actually implemented with the new Bill. He added that he had been given assurances by ministers that they would consider his proposals.
His comments came after fellow Tory rebels Danny Kruger, Simon Clarke and Jonathan Gullis also agreed earlier in the day not to push their amendments to a vote, which would effectively allow the UK to ignore the European Court on Human Rights.
In a signal to the rebels, however, Mr Sunak used an appearance in Essex to warn that he would not give in to such demands, stating it is “important that we abide by our international obligations”.
“This is a country and a Government that does follow the law,” he said.
Mr Sunak had yet to give such assurances to a rebellion from the moderate wing of the Tory party, led by former minister Tim Loughton, who insisted he would push his plans to require safe and legal routes to a vote unless there were “substantial reassurances” from the Government.
His amendments, which are supported by Labour and have a strong chance of passing, call for “specific safe and legal routes” to be written into the Bill so “asylum seekers can enter the United Kingdom in an orderly and sustainable way”, Mr Loughton said.
But officials signalled that Government was unlikely to compromise with moderates on their plans.
Home Office Minister Chris Philp on Monday played down suggestions that the Government could accept amendments to establish more safe and legal routes.
i understands that ministers believe that the legislation already provides for more safe and legal routes, by including provisions placing a duty on the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, to make regulations specifying how many refugees will be resettled annually.
But the Tory moderates want her to specify how refugees would be able to apply to come to the UK if they are prevented from crossing the Channel to do so.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Loughton said the Bill “must have safe and legal routes in it if it is to be properly balanced”.
Under his plans, the former minister is calling for “clearly defined” safe and legal routes, highlighting the family reunion scheme that was in place when the UK was part of the Dublin arrangements as an EU member state.
A second route would build on the Dubs scheme, named after the Labour peer Lord Dubs, himself a former child refugee, which enabled the UK to bring around 480 children from dangerous parts of the world in 2016.
The time-limited scheme, which was the product of a similar amendment that was accepted to see off a rebellion under David Cameron, was later wound up.
Mr Loughton told MPs: “I think this Bill is a genuine attempt to get to grips with it [the small boats crisis]. It would be much more palatable and much more workable, if it contained a balance that has safe and legal routes written into the Bill that come in at the same stage.”
But Mr Philp had earlier played down suggestions of a Government compromise.
He told LBC radio: “This country has a lot of safe and legal routes established already.
“In terms of creating more, my own view is that we should fix the illegal immigration problem first, stop the boats, as the Prime Minister has committed, and then we can add in these additional and safe and legal routes.”