LONDON – U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s attempt to avoid a parliamentary rebellion risked further damaging the already tense relationship he has with his Conservative Party’s rank-and-file lawmakers.
Faced with the prospect of Tories voting against their own government and in support of two anti-European amendments to the Immigration Bill today, ministers have restricted the time for debate and laid down so many of their own new clauses that the rebel proposals are unlikely to be heard.
Last year saw record-breaking Conservative rebellions on both the U.K.’s membership of the European Union and the question of military action in Syria. While government tactics may avoid another such vote today, they risk stoking anger by denying lawmakers the chance to have their say.
“The prime minister may think that any resentment caused by talking out the rebel amendments may be worth it in the week when Labour has been on the back foot on the economy,” Phil Cowley, professor of politics at Nottingham University said in an interview. “But it could be dangerous as it may create future resentment in the party.”
Home Secretary Theresa May has tabled more than 50 amendments to her own legislation, including one that will allow the government to revoke someone’s citizenship if they gained it through naturalization, and if their behavior has been “seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the U.K.”
On Jan. 14 Cameron tried to get his party behind him, urging them to stop writing public letters of protest about policy and instead come and see him. It didn’t prevent two sets of rebel amendments to today’s bill.
One group has proposed an amendment calling on the government to reinstate restrictions on migrants from Bulgaria and Romania working in Britain until the end of 2018.
Another clause, tabled by Tory lawmaker Dominic Raab, would mean foreign criminals being deported unless they risk being killed or tortured on return to their home nation.
The moves reflect fear among Tory lawmakers that the party will lose ground to the U.K. Independence Party in European elections in May. A YouGov PLC poll commissioned by The Sun newspaper Jan. 16 predicted Labour will receive 32 percent of the vote, UKIP 26 percent and the Conservatives would trail third with 23 percent. UKIP campaigns for Britain’s withdrawal from the bloc.
Raab defended his planned amendment to the bill in an interview yesterday, calling it “focused” and arguing it would “cut the hundreds of convicted killers, rapists, drug-dealers and other serious criminals successfully challenging deportation orders on the basis of family and social ties.”
Under his measure, the U.K. home secretary, not the courts, would rule on whether an offender’s family links are strong enough to allow them to avoid deportation.
The amendment “isn’t embroiling us in totemic debates about Europe or the Human Rights Act — it’s just a robust, targeted, way to restore some balance to our border controls,” Raab said.