Labour will not support Dominic Raab’s Immigration Bill amendment on the deportation of foreign criminals. A party source tells me that ‘if the government are saying that something is illegal, then we can’t support it’. Which will come as a relief to the whips, given the level of support for the proposal. I also hear that the Tory whips seriously intend that the amendment never reaches a vote in the first place, using the plethora of government amendments and ministers talking until the time limit on debate for the legislation is reached. This will cause uproar, but well-placed sources tell me the whips are determined that this amendment is not debated for a second time.
Talks are continuing today between David Cameron and Nick Clegg on Stephen Phillips’ amendments. These are ‘backbench’ amendments backed by Number 10 which place a duty on the Home Secretary to measure levels of EU migration and to act if these become ‘excessive’. We may hear something after lunch on how the two parties intend to play this set of proposals, as the Conservatives want to support them, while I understand that the Liberal Democrats will not support them in their current state. There is a possibility the two parties could suspend collective responsibility once again to vote in different ways, although they may also be able to find a unifying amendment to the amendments (thus sending everyone’s heads into a spin). A senior Lib Dem source says:
‘The amendments are badly drafted and they send out a very damaging signal to our European neighbours that we do not intend to play by the rules. We do not know what the word ‘excessive’ means, but it seems to lead to quotas. Spain does not have quotas for the number of British people who are living over there.’
But what has also riled the Lib Dems is the possibility that these supposedly ‘backbench’ amendments that Number 10 just happens to like are actually written by government officials. I am told by a number of sources that they were in fact brought to backbenchers by Home Office Minister Mark Harper. A senior Lib Dem describes this as ‘not cricket’.
As for the original trouble-making amendment from Nigel Mills, I understand that rebel whipping operation (that some Tory MPs are dismissing as rather too disorganised) believe they can now count on the vote of between 40 and 50 Tory MPs. So the whips have enjoyed some success on that front at least.