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Rishi Sunak’s bill to send asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda will be voted through on Wednesday, a government minister has said, as the prime minister tries to stave off a damaging revolt from rightwing Conservative MPs.

“It is going to get through tonight,” illegal migration minister Michael Tomlinson told the BBC on Wednesday. “What you will also see this afternoon is a united determination to make sure this Rwanda policy works.”

Sunak was hit by the biggest rebellion of his premiership on Tuesday after 60 backbench Tories backed an amendment seeking to “toughen up” the proposed legislation by blocking asylum seekers from trying to prevent their removal under international human rights law.

Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith resigned as Tory deputy chairs before they were sacked in order to vote for the amendment, as did Jane Stevenson, formerly a ministerial aide.

If it became law, the highly contentious Rwanda bill would see migrants who arrived in the UK by small boat sent to the central African country to seek asylum there.

The government believes moving even a few hundred asylum seekers would act as a strong deterrent, as it seeks to convince voters that it is determined to slash irregular migration ahead of the election this year.

Sunak — who won Tuesday’s vote thanks to the backing of Labour and other opposition parties — faces another threat to his authority on Wednesday evening as MPs decide whether to vote against the legislation as a whole at its third reading.

Although Sunak’s allies are confident that the rebels are bluffing and the legislation is widely expected to scrape through, a defeat would deal him a stinging blow.

Tomlinson played down Tory divisions, saying there was an “inch of difference” between MPs who wanted the legislation to be strengthened, including those who resigned on Tuesday evening, and MPs seeking to vote it through.

MPs will spend the afternoon voting on further amendments to the legislation, including one put forward by Robert Jenrick, who resigned as immigration minister last month.

His amendment would compel ministers to automatically ignore so-called pyjama injunctions, which are granted at the last minute and sometimes late at night by judges at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

With none of the amendments expected to pass, the bill is likely to have its third reading in parliament on Wednesday and MPs will be able to vote on the legislation as a whole.

If 32 Tory MPs vote against it, the government will be defeated.

Jonathan Gullis, MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, is one of a handful of Tory MPs to have indicated publicly that he would be willing to vote against the legislation on Wednesday if further amendments put forward by rightwingers were not accepted.

“What we need to do is have it as a sustainable deterrent. That means having regular flights with lots of people onboard, otherwise people will just see it as a gimmick, the voters will see it as a gimmick,” he told LBC.

“We will have tried a third piece of legislation in three years and, if it fails, it will be three strikes and you’re out,” added Gullis.

Last month, the rightwing “five families” caucus of MPs threatened to vote the legislation down at its second reading. In the end only 29 Tory MPs abstained, and none voted against it.

The government has offered potential rebels a series of concessions in the hope of staving off further revolt.

These include making it clearer in the civil service code, which sets rules on how public officials should conduct themselves, that they would not be breaching rules if they overruled injunctions from the ECHR to halt someone being sent to Rwanda.

Justice secretary Alex Chalk has also set out plans to increase capacity in the courts, and hire more judges, to expedite asylum decisions.

Asked how many people would be sent to Rwanda if the bill became law, Tomlinson said “it will start off with small numbers and then move into the thousands”. He refused to be drawn on timescales.

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