MPs gave the PM’s flagship legislation its third reading by 320 to 276 after rebels stopped short of inflicting a defeat that could potentially have collapsed the government.
But it came at a big political cost to Mr Sunak as during earlier votes around 60 of his own troops repeatedly defied him to back amendments designed to toughen the plans.
None of the amendments succeeded because they were opposed by Labour, but there was a serious threat at the final stage where the Opposition also voted against.
It only became clear that the mutiny was melting away this afternoon, as ringleaders signalled they would stick to the whip rather than risking a complete meltdown.
In the event only a handful appear to have gone against Mr Sunak, with the majority whittled down to 44. Technically the majority is 54, although some independent MPs typically vote with the government.
However, Mr Sunak cannot relax for long as the legislation now moves to the House of Lords, where peers are gearing up for guerrilla warfare to slow or even thwart its progress.
In a final plea for MPs to back the Bill this evening, Home Secretary James Cleverly insisted the legislation is in ‘complete compliance with international law’.
He lashed out at Labour for refusing to support the Rwanda policy, saying Keir Starmer does not have any plan of its own.
And Mr Cleverly argued that the Tories are ‘united in the agreement that stopping the boats… and getting (the) Rwanda partnership up and running is of the utmost importance’.
‘To stop the boats completely, to stop them for good, we need to deter people from making these dangerous journeys,’ he said.
Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda legislation was given its third reading by MPs after rebels stopped short of inflicting a defeat that could potentially have collapsed the government
In a final plea for MPs to back the Bill this evening, Home Secretary James Cleverly insisted the legislation is in ‘complete compliance with international law’
Mr Sunak was in the House of Commons as MPs prepared to give their verdict on his flagship legislation
Shocking footage showed more migrants risking their lives in the Channel today as Tories descended into civil war over whether Rishi Sunak ‘s Rwanda plan can stop them
It would have taken around 28 MPs voting against, twice that many abstentions, or a combination of the two, to overturn the Government’s majority.
Rebel ringleader Danny Kruger joked as the debate wound up that the government whips had done a ‘brilliant job today’, and enjoyed more success winning over MPs than him. He acknowledged that many Tories were now backing the Bill to avoid ‘disruption’.
MPs on the Tory Right gathered in Parliament earlier to discuss their latest plans.
A source at the meeting conceded the ‘majority’ of MPs in the room had now decided to vote with the PM and predicted the Rwanda Bill would pass ‘comfortably’.
But they warned that they could come back if the Lords try to make changes to the legislation that weaken its powers.
‘The PM is by no means out of the woods,’ a source said. ‘All colleagues are sad at where we have ended up…
‘The majority felt it was necessary to vote it through in part because of the parliamentary party and partly because of the consequences for the Government.’
The source accused Tory moderates – who have warned the PM they won’t stomach any amendments to toughen the Bill – as being ‘out of touch with where the country is’.
They also hit out at the Government over its handling of the latest Tory row, adding: ‘Everybody in the room was deeply upset at the way the Government has handled matters in recent days, particularly the way discussions have been strung along.’
More than 60 Tory MPs continued to rebel to back amendments to the law that were easily defeated in the Commons tonight.
The climbdown by Tory rebels came as a huge relief to Downing Street, as the PM continues his efforts to get migrant deportation flights off the ground.
His new legislation, formally titled the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, is aimed at manoeuvring around last year’s Supreme Court ruling against the asylum scheme.
Former Cabinet minister Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg was among those on the Tory Right who said they would support the Government at the Bill’s Third Reading.
Veteran Tory Sir Bill Cash was among the MPs who said they would oppose the Bill at third reading stage
Dozens of people could be seen packed on to a tiny dinghy as it struggled off the coast of Kent, dwarfed by ferries and cargo vessels in the busy shipping lane
A separate incident saw another small boat crowded with passengers, including one man balanced precariously on the bow without a lifejacket
The blue dinghy looked to be struggling to stay above the waves as it made the perilous trip
A Border Force vessel met the migrant dinghies as the crossed into British waters
After plucking them from the waves, Border Force officials were pictured bringing the group ashore brought at Dover
Mr Sunak shrugged off the wrangling as he took PMQs this afternoon, insisting: ‘We want to stop the boats. We have a plan and it is working.’
As Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer likened Tory squabbling on Rwanda to ‘hundreds of bald men fighting over a comb’, Mr Sunak shot back that Labour had no interest in tackling the problem and would take the country ‘back to square one’.
But the spat has poured petrol on raging splits in the party, with furious Tories branding the rebels ‘not very bright’.
Former No10 communications director Guto Harri described the right-wingers as ‘narcissists’ who were pushing for ‘mass suicide’ with just months to go until a general election.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt tried to make light of the vicious infighting this morning, describing it as a ‘lively debate’.
Underlining the wider problems, a poll overnight showed Labour 17 points ahead – with fears the Conservatives are ‘leaking votes’ to Reform UK.
Suella Braverman was among the Tories who lined up behind rebel amendments during the committee stage of the Bill
Nearly 60 Tories backed a series of rebel amendments to the Rwanda Bill – plus two tellers
Jane Stevenson – a ministerial aide to Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch – offered her resignation after backing hostile amendments in crunch votes last night
Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith quit as Tory deputy chairs after joining the rebellion
The insurrection last night was the biggest in Mr Sunak’s time as leader.
It was bolstered by an intervention from Boris Johnson, who urged the rebels to stand their ground to make the legislation ‘as legally robust as possible’.
The former PM said: ‘Governments around the world are now trying to imitate the UK Rwanda policy for tackling illegal people trafficking. This Bill must be as legally robust as possible – and the right course is to adopt the amendments.’
However, Downing Street said the proposed legislation was already the ‘toughest ever’ and warned that tightening it further risked breaking international law.
The PM’s official spokesman said the plans were ‘legally robust and the fastest way to get flights off the ground’.
But 60 MPs voted for an amendment to the Rwanda Bill that would have disapplied human rights laws in relation to deportations.
A similar number backed a separate push to ban Channel migrants from lodging individual legal appeals to frustrate their removal.
Rebels included ten former Cabinet ministers, including Liz Truss, Suella Braverman, Sir Iain Duncan Smith and former immigration minister Robert Jenrick, who led yesterday’s revolt.
In a further blow, Tory deputy chairmen Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith resigned to join the revolt, as did Kemi Badenoch‘s aide Jane Stevenson.
The proposed changes were heavily defeated last night as they were opposed by both the Government and Labour.
But some rebels warned they could vote down the entire Rwanda Bill tonight unless the Government caves in.
Former Cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke said: ‘I will vote against if the legislation isn’t amended. Simple as that.’
Mark Francois, chairman of the ERG group of Eurosceptic Tories, urged the PM to back down or risk losing his flagship policy tonight. ‘Given the size of the vote tonight, if I were his advisers, I would be saying: ‘I think you want to compromise tomorrow if you can’.’
Tory whips are trying to peel off some of the rebels and reduce their number to a ‘hardcore’ of around a dozen.
However, there are concerns the Government could still lose if a large number of Tory MPs abstain.
Mr Harri described the rebels as ‘self-centred narcissists’ whose revolt was ‘utterly futile’.
He told Sky News: ‘Tomorrow they are either going to bottle it or they really are going to commit mass political suicide.’
A right-leaning minister told the Financial Times: ‘They are just not strategically very bright. They have told the country that our policy is sh**, but when it comes to the third reading vote they will abstain and look stupid.’
Illegal migration minister Michael Tomlinson sought to play down the depth of Tory divisions in a round of interviews this morning, saying: ‘We all want the same thing.’
‘There are disagreements of emphasis. There’s an inch between us, there’s a determination to ensure that the policy works,’ he told the BBC.
Boris Johnson also waded into the row urging the government to accept the rebel amendments
The rebellion came just 24 hours after Tory elections chief Isaac Levido issued a stark warning to Conservative MPs that they risk inevitable defeat if they allow infighting to continue.
‘Let me be clear: divided parties fail. It’s time to get serious,’ he told the backbench 1922 Committee on Monday night.
The Rwanda scheme was blocked by the Supreme Court in November after judges accepted claims that the country was not safe.
The new legislation declares in law that the African nation is a safe country and prevents the courts examining the principle of the scheme.
But, to the dismay of Tory rebels, it will not stop individual appeals by migrants threatened with deportation.
Rebel MPs are also seeking to disapply all human rights laws and ban interventions from the European Court of Human Rights, which grounded the last attempted deportation flight to Rwanda in June 2022.
Mr Jenrick, who quit the government last month, said there would be a deluge of individual claims unless they were outlawed, telling MPs: ‘Every legal representative and Leftie lawyer will try everything they can to support those claims. We see it every time.’
He added: ‘How much are we actually willing to do to stop the boats? How willing are we to take on the vested interests, balance the trade-offs, take the robust steps that will actually work?
‘The only countries in the world that have fixed this problem, latterly Australia and Greece, have been willing to take the most robust action. Are we?’
MPs will vote on further amendments today before holding a crunch vote tonight on whether to approve the Bill and send it to the House of Lords.
Mr Anderson has told friends he is ready to vote down the Bill. Mr Sunak made extensive efforts to persuade the straight-talking former miner to vote with the Government. But Mr Anderson told GB News: ‘I don’t think I could carry on in my role when I fundamentally disagree with the Bill.’
In a joint letter with Mr Clarke-Smith, he said: ‘We have already had two pieces of legislation thwarted by a system that does not work in favour of the British people. It is for this reason that we have supported the amendments… This is not because we are against the legislation, but because like everybody else we want it to work.’
Business Secretary Ms Badenoch is known to have privately urged No 10 to strengthen the Bill. Last night, her parliamentary aide Ms Stevenson resigned.
The MP for Wolverhampton North East said the legislation had to be ‘as robust as it possibly can be’ to deal with the illegal immigration ‘crisis’.
‘It is a crisis and my constituents certainly want to see results,’ she said.
In the debate, immigration minister Michael Tomlinson urged MPs to unite behind the policy, saying: ‘Let there be no doubt that the Government is focused and determined to stop the boats. We have made progress, but we must be enabled to finish the job.’