Rishi Sunak successfully navigated a vote pertaining to Rwanda, marking the beginning of his journey.

The prime minister’s attention on small boats appears to be tragically misguided and the storm clouds are continuing to gather.

As the storm clouds collected over Westminster on Tuesday afternoon, one of Rishi Sunak’s cabinet ministers looked up at the ominous grey sky and sighed: “It’s pathetic fallacy.”

Despite the somber mood among the prime minister’s allies – and despite grim warnings to the contrary – the initial phase of his flagship Rwanda bill passed easily through the House of Commons.

Sunak spent the day endeavoring to convince potential rebels to vote in favor of the legislation, beginning with a pre-dawn meeting at No 10 where he assured the rightwing New Conservative group of MPs that he would not withdraw the bill but was open to discussing possible amendments.

However, not all Tory MPs were convinced, with some present questioning whether the government could modify the legislation at later stages, despite Sunak previously claiming he could not budge “an inch” for fear of the Rwanda deal collapsing.

Downing Street stated that the government was in “listening” mode, prompting one senior backbench rebel to complain that the prime minister was actually in “transmit but not receive” mode, showing a determination not to make any significant changes.

The One Nation group of centrist Tory MPs had already declared their support for the law on the condition that Sunak made no concessions. One former minister suggested there was “a lot of shouting” from the right but expected the bill to pass.

Wary of potential opposition, the Tory whips implemented a three-line whip, cancelled pairing and slips, and scrapped foreign trips. Climate minister Graham Stuart was summoned back from Cop28 in Dubai before the tense negotiations there had concluded.

Some Tory MPs even claimed they had been threatened with losing their position. One senior Conservative, a loyalist of Sunak, denied that the government was panicking but admitted: “I’ve made it very clear to my colleagues, it’s either this bill or Labour wins the election.”

Just 29 Tories needed to vote against the Rwanda bill or 57 to abstain for the bill to fail. If it had failed, it would have been the first second reading vote lost by a government since 1986 – and a tremendous embarrassment for Sunak.

The meetings with different factions of Tory MPs continued throughout the day, with the location shifting to Sunak’s Commons office as the vote approached. Rebels said he was “doing everything possible”, even holding individual meetings with wavering MPs.

However, as the debate progressed in the chamber, the nervousness in Downing Street lessened. Some of the staunchest critics of the legislation, including former immigration minister Robert Jenrick, indicated they would abstain for now and then attempt to amend the bill at a later date.

Others within the “five families” of the Tory right remained more skeptical, regarding colleagues who believed No 10 would meet their demands to toughen the bill once it returned to the Commons in early January as “deluded”.

Keir Starmer, who has stated that a Labour government would repeal the legislation if the Rwanda law is passed, cautioned against exaggerating the vote considering the Tory party’s significant majority.

“It will pass tonight without a doubt, amidst a lot of shouting and screaming, but in the end, it will pass,” he told reporters. “This is a government with a majority, so we shouldn’t indulge them by pretending it will be close.”

Although the legislation successfully overcame its initial obstacle, Sunak finds himself in deep trouble. He has sparked a civil war within his party despite promising stability. He has raised public expectations that he would address illegal migration, yet has so far failed to deliver.

The Conservative party’s obsession threatens to tear it apart. Sunak’s fixation on small boats – which accounted for less than 4% of all immigration to the UK last year – appears tragically misguided.

While he may have succeeded in the vote, this is just the beginning of this particular battle. The storm clouds continue to gather.

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