Tory MPs must unite behind Rishi Sunak to avoid the disaster of a Labour gov

In a direct challenge to Sir Keir Starmer, the Prime Minister said Labour must “for once stop acting in their short-term interests” and put the country first.

Opposing the scheme, which will be put to the vote on Tuesday, would prove they were “not fit to govern”.

Mr Sunak declared: “If Labour votes against this plan it is clear they are not serious about stopping the boats and keeping people out of the clutches of people smugglers.”

The PM is facing a crucial moment of his premiership, with threats to his flagship Rwanda scheme coming not just from the Opposition but from rebels in his own party. The fact he is openly challenging Sir Keir to back the Government in the “national interest” shows how much Tuesday’s vote is on a knife edge.

His stark words came as new migration minister Tom Pursglove said the Rwanda battle was a “defining moment” in the fight against illegal migration and warned: “The time for talking is over”.

MPs will vote on emergency legislation to make sure illegal migrants are sent to Rwanda for processing. Mr Sunak said: “This week, Labour needs for once to rise above political games. They need for once to stop acting in their short-term interests.

“They need to act in the national interest. The Conservatives are on the public’s side – and we will push on with our plan to stop the boats.”

In a personal message to Sunday Express readers, Mr Pursglove said the Government is determined to “tackle this problem once and for all”.

He described the Rwanda Bill as the “toughest immigration legislation ever introduced to Parliament” and acknowledged the “country’s patience has been severely tested”.

Pushing Labour to get behind the plan, he said: “Labour carp from the sidelines, but the reality is they have no alternative plan.

“The smuggling gangs will exploit their weakness and indecision and send thousands more in dinghies to our shores, risking lives and putting a further burden on British taxpayers.”

Exclusive polling by WeThink shows just three in 10 voters want Labour to oppose the emergency legislation. A third of likely Labour voters want the party to get behind the Bill.

The PM told the Sunday Express: “This goes beyond party politics. Securing our borders is in the national interest.”

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has hit the phones to persuade Tory MPs to back the landmark legislation.

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Former home secretary Priti Patel defended the Rwanda plan and turned her guns on Labour, saying: “This policy will disrupt the business model of organised criminal gangs and deter migrants from putting their lives at risk.

“This poll is clear, the public want action and it is a shame that once again Labour are failing to support measures that seek to save lives, and find solutions to tackling illegal migration.”

The fightback comes as the PM battles to convince his own MPs that if they support his plan, flights to Rwanda will finally take off.

It is claimed the Government’s own official legal advice says that under the plans there is only a “50 per cent at best” chance of flights going ahead next year.

Downing Street has denied reports the Prime Minister is “very, very down” and not his “usual Tiggerish self”.

The challenge of getting the Bill through a divided Commons appears to have triggered memories of Theresa May’s fight to get her Brexit deal approved.

Lord Barwell, Lady May’s former chief of staff, agreed, saying: “It feels very late 2018.” He said it felt as if the Tories are “back in that ungovernable space, that unleadable space”.

Last week’s resignation of Robert Jenrick as immigration minister triggered speculation Mr Sunak could even face a confidence vote, with MPs debating who could take over if the party loses the next election.

A former Cabinet minister said people are “definitely on manoeuvres”, but warned that forcing out the PM would not improve the party’s electoral chances.

“People think we’re stupid enough as it is,” they said. “They look at people going on television and attacking Rishi and attacking the Conservative party, and we do not look credible at all.”

It is not only the Right of the party that is worried about the Rwanda Bill.

MPs in the powerful One Nation Group of centrist Tories will meet tomorrow to decide on their stance.

Lady May’s former first secretary of state Damian Green said: “There are
genuine concerns among One Nation Conservative MPs about the Bill, and we will discuss them on Monday.” MPs admit there has been a breakdown in party discipline with some Tories having “checked out”. More than 50 MPs are not standing again and others have given up hopes of getting a ministerial job.

One MP said: “The party has been unwhippable for some time.” Another agreed that “the whips have lost control”.

Labour MPs look at the disunity in Tory ranks with bafflement and delight.

One Labour frontbencher said: “I think this will be a tough election and it may be hard to win a majority. “But they are doing their best to ensure we win a decent Labour majority.”

A key concern in Tory ranks is whether the emergency legislation will succeed in stopping people from lodging legal appeals against their removal. Alp Mehmet of Migration Watch was not optimistic and predicted the Bill will be “mauled” when it goes to the House of Lords.

He said: “The Bill, as it stands, allows for individuals to appeal against removal both to our courts and the ECHR.

“Activist immigration lawyers will be champing at the bit to get appealing.”

However, Conservative MP Philip Davies said all Tories should support the legislation and was confident that Mr Sunak will take the party into the next election.

He said: “This isn’t a vote of confidence in the Government – it is more a vote of confidence in the common sense of Conservative backbenches. Every Conservative MP must accept that what is being proposed in this Bill is better than the status quo and so therefore must vote in favour of it.

“And if anyone wants what is proposed toughened up – even though it is difficult to see how – then that can only happen if they vote for the second reading of the Bill.

“So, I cannot think of any reason why any Conservative MP would not support the Government in the vote on this Bill.”

A fellow Tory MP said anyone considering ditching the PM “now needs their head examined”. A Labour spokeswoman said: “That the Prime Minister is begging for our votes just proves that his tired, chaotic government cannot deliver for our country.”

However, former Labour MP Simon Danczuk warned that the party would be punished at the polls if it opposed the Rwanda plan.

He said: “Illegal immigration is increasingly becoming a more important issue to the general public. “If Labour oppose this latest emergency legislation to get the Rwanda policy through then they will lose support.

“This is because the majority of people in the country want to radically reduce illegal immigration and the Rwanda policy is the only solution.”

A Government source asked why Labour had a “moral problem” with the Rwanda plan, saying people would be “genuinely welcomed” in a “safe country in Africa that is really going places”.

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