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David Cameron Hopes To Dodge Tory Rebellion On Immigration

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DAVID CAMERON
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David Cameron will attempt to avoid an embarrassing double Conservative rebellion over Europe today, when his flagship Immigration Bill returns to the Commons.

The Bill, which the prime minister said was centre piece of his legislative programme this year, was designed to lower annual net migration. However eurosceptic backbench Tories have tried to amend the Bill to crack down even harder on immigration from the European Union.

The prime minister is facing a rebellion over two backbench Tory amendments - both of which the government can not support as it believes they would be illegal under EU law.

The first, tabled by Nigel Mills and signed by around 70 backbenchers, calls for restrictions to be placed on on migrants from Romania and Bulgaria working in Britain until the end of 2018.

The second, tabled by Dominic Raab and with the backing of around 100 MPs including some Labour backbenchers, would block foreign criminals appealing against deportation by claiming a right to a ''family life'' in the UK.

Initially it had been the Mills amendment that had most worried Downing Street. As such as concerted campaign by the party whips has been underway, and it is believed to have whittled down the number of Tories expected to defy the government.

The Raab amendment however, which had gathered support under the radar, has attracted the support of former Labour communities secretary Hazel Blears, Cameron's former police minister Nick Herbert and former justice minister Crispin Blunt.

Cameron is highly unlikely to be defeated on either amendment. However he faces the prospect of a significant proportion of his own party defying him on a Bill that is supposed to show he is tough on immigration, because it is not tough enough.

A rebellion of either size would be a significant blow to the prime minister's authority - as well as his claim that the Tories are united on Europe ahead of the EU elections in May.

To avoid the confrontation the government appeared to awkwardly delay the Bill return to the Commons, denying Tory backbenchers the chance to put their amendments to a vote. However forced to confront the rebels, Downing Street may instead try to out manoeuvre them using parliamentary procedure.

On Wednesday, Labour was reported to have decided to not support the Raab amendment removing the prospect of a defeat to match the one over the EU budget. But it may now not even come to a vote.

A Labour source told HuffPost UK that Tory MPs would "definitely" not have a chance to rebel by voting in favour of the amendment as the government intended to "talk it out" - the process by which it runs out of parliamentary time to be debated.

The move will infuriate many Conservative MPs who want to be given the chance to vote in favour of tougher immigration rules than the ones on offer from Cameron.

Wellingborough MP Peter Bone recently demanded that the Bill be given an extra day in the Commons as the Commons "cannot possibly have enough time in the four hours on Thursday to debate or even read" the entire Bill.

Speaking at prime minister's questions yesterday, Cameron said he shared backbenchers' frustration but urged them not to delay the passage of the Bill.

He said: ''We need to correct - and we will correct in the Immigration Bill - the fact that it is so difficult to deport people who don't have a right to be here and should be facing trial overseas or should be deported overseas but make spurious arguments about the right to a family life.

''It is right that we are changing that. There is nothing anti-European about it. It's a very sensible step that this government is taking and we should pass the Immigration Bill with all speed.''

Late on Wednesday home secretary Theresa May slotted in a last-minute change to the Bill so British terror suspects can be stripped of their citizenship even if it leaves them stateless.

In an apparent effort to appease Conservative backbenchers calling for tougher measures in the new legislation, many of whom have signed the Raab and Mills amendments, May has tabled an amendment which will allow the removal of a UK passport from any person whose conduct is deemed "seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK".

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