Rwanda battle like Brexit rows of the past – leaving the PM in a tight spot

Politics

“End of days”. “A death spiral”. “They’ve lost the plot”. “I feel sorry for Rishi”.

These are just some of the comments from former cabinet and ex-senior ministers mulling over the current state of the Conservative Party and what the prime minister does next.

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The battle over his Rwanda policy is now like Theresa May and Boris Johnson’s battles with the party over Brexit – two sides irreconcilable over how the Rishi Sunak should proceed, as former cabinet ministers mutter to me that its hard to see how the PM can get the bill through parliament.

The prime minister said on Thursday that the vote over his emergency legislation was not a vote of confidence in his leadership.

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2:07

Sky’s Beth Rigby puts it to the PM that a Rwanda vote in the Commons could be a ‘confidence’ vote on his leadership.

That is probably a sensible position to take, since it’s far from clear whether he’ll get it past the right of his party.

Suella Braverman and her newest recruit, Robert Jenrick, only need 29 MPs to rebel and the PM’s Rwanda plan falls.

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Whether he calls it a confidence vote or not, this is now an existential crisis for Mr Sunak.

Failure to get his landmark legislation through his own party will kill off any authority he has left and raise the inevitable question of whether he can carry on.

And if he isn’t prepared to resign, will MPs put enough letters into the chair of the 1922 committee, Sir Graham Brady, to force a vote of confidence in Mr Sunak, as they did against Theresa May during the Brexit wars that eventually brought her down?

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0:21

‘Why did you resign, sir?’

The mood is febrile already, with messages flying around amongst MPs that Number 10 were preparing for a confidence vote next week – chatter ignited by the anti-Rishi gang.

There is also talk about whether Mr Sunak should make it a hard three-line whip, and make it clear to MPs that rebellion would amount to them being expelled from the parliamentary party.

The prime minister said on Thursday rebels wouldn’t be sacked if they defy the government, but there are some who think he should pursue “the nuclear option”.

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1:41

An Afghan migrant tells Sky News that the Rwanda plan won’t stop him from crossing the Channel.

“This is like Brexit all over again,” said one senior MP. “Boris Johnson expelled a bunch of Remainers – including Ken Clarke – over no deal Brexit legislation in 2019.

“Rishi should remove the whip from those on the right that rebel. It’d also mean they can’t stand in the next election as Tories, so he sorts out succession too.”

For its part, Number 10 insists the only thing they are preparing for is the vote on Rwanda.

The prime minister seems almost oblivious to the political carnage all around him as he seeks to drive his Rwanda plan on.

It is, quite simply, a vote he must win. Losing doesn’t bear thinking about.

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