PM warned of Tory revolt as boats plan likened to Trump
Rishi Sunak has been warned by Conservative MPs that his small boats crackdown bill won’t pass through parliament unless the PM waters down his detention and deportation plan.
The Independent understands that Tory moderates are discussing how best to amend the bill at the next stage – focusing on
creating stronger protections on child detention and modern slavery.
However, right-wing Tory MPs are also understood to be drawing up plans to further toughen the bill with an amendment to pull the UK out of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). The hardliners are pushing the government to avoid the small boats asylum ban getting bogged down in the courts, and believe they have as many as 40 MPs ready to back the radical move.
Senior backbencher Caroline Nokes launched a fresh attack on the government’s asylum legislation – likening it to Donald Trump’s “caging of children”. Ms Nokes said the bill would give home secretary Suella Braverman the power to “lock up pregnant women, to incarcerate children with their families” if they arrive via the English Channel.
She told TalkTV: “Did we not learn from Donald Trump and his caging of children that this is a horrendous thing to do – to incarcerate children?”
Ms Nokes said she shared the concerns that the Illegal Migration Bill would hand Ms Braverman the power to deport unaccompanied children, a possibility downplayed by the government. Former Tory justice secretary Robert Buckland said yesterday that Tory MPs who shared Ms Nokes concerns about child detention would rebel unless changes were made to the plan.
Although the bill passed its second reading by 312 votes to 250 on Monday night – with the majority of Tory MPs backing it – Mr Buckland made clear the bill would need “further work.” He said the government “risks looking guilty of ineffective authoritarianism.”
“The issue relating to particularly women and children needs to be directly addressed. I do not support the detention of unaccompanied children or indeed the splitting up of families; that was a government policy that has been followed since 2010.”
Former Tory prime minister Theresa May joined the backlash against the bill on Monday night – warning that modern slavery victims will be “collateral damage”. Several senior Tories have indicated they would not support the bill in its current form – including Ms Nokes, Mr Buckland, net zero adviser Chris Skidmore, Northern Ireland select committee chair Simon Hoare and defence select committee chair Tobias Ellwood.
Mr Ellwood told The Independent that MPs would want to amend the bill “so our international obligations on prevention of child detention are met”, adding: “Without these changes, I suspect the bill will not pass through parliament.”
Moderates believe that dozens of MP will support greater protections for children and trafficking victims. However, The
Independent understands right-wing Tory MPs are considering their own amendment to pull the UK out of the European Convention of Human Rights.
The Tory chief whip’s office is understood to be trying to persuade the right-wingers to hold off from amendments and give the legislation a chance to work. Mr Buckland warned against any effort to use the small boats bill as a “battering ram” against the ECHR.
The Liberal Democrats said they will table their own amendment to ban child detention, having helped end the previous practice of detaining under-18s for immigration
purposes as part of the coalition government. “If Conservative MPs are serious about opposing these plans, they should back our attempts to prevent the locking up of innocent children fleeing war and violence,” said the party’s home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael MP.
Asked if Mr Sunak was in “listening mode” on amendments, his official spokesperson said: “The prime minister has set out why he thinks this bill is important and necessary in order to stop the boats.”
The row comes as former Home Office adviser Nimco Ali condemned the planned crackdown on migrants as “heartless” and “racist”.
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