Ed Miliband and David Cameron
Ed Miliband plans to outmanoeuvre David CameronReuters

David Cameron is facing a potentially damaging defeat at the hands of his own MPs over immigration after it emerged Labour leader Ed Miliband was set to outmanoeuvre him in crunch Commons votes.

The issue of immigration has shot to the top of the political agenda in recent months and landed Cameron with a series of political challenges. He lifted one of those this week by finally bowing to Liberal Democrat and Labour pressure and agreeing to allow hundreds of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees into the UK.

But, even as he was explaining his about-face, it emerged he could be defeated in the Commons over demands from Tory MPs to remove the protection from deportation of immigrant criminals claiming they have a family life in Britain.

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Labour MPs may be given the green light by the leadership to support the move, led by Tory Dominic Raab, which has huge public support and which would almost guarantee a government defeat.

But Miliband is also expected to support Cameron against his Tory rebels in a separate vote demanding controls on Romanian and Bulgarian migrants are extended by five years to 2018.

Both votes will come on planned amendments to the government's keynote Immigration Bill which contains other measures aimed at, for example, tackling terrorism.

Labour has calculated it is on to a win-win here. It will be chiming with public opinion on the issue of deportation, which backers believe can be achieved under existing human rights laws, but it will appear responsible by opposing the move on Romanian and Bulgarian migrants because it would break EU law.

There is little doubt that Raab has powerful support both amongst voters but also in the Commons. But there are growing fears that the prime minister and government managers are desperately seeking parliamentary tactics to stop the move in its tracks without torpedoing the entire bill.

It may even be that ministers decide to table an amendment of their own which goes some way towards accommodating the rebels on deportation but may well fall short of their full demands.

Raab has claimed the current system used by criminals to avoid deportation is "an obscene abuse of human rights". Legislation was needed that: "stops killers, rapists and drug dealers running rings round our border controls and restores some common sense to the British justice system," he said.

And he expressed his frustration at expected government attempts to stop his move in a piece for the Daily Mail in which he said: "If the party bosses manoeuvre to prevent the most popular amendment to this Bill even getting 10 minutes' debate, it would reinforce the public's cynical perception that the political elite stitch up debate and ignore their concerns."

Supporters also believe that it could prove electorally damaging for Cameron to be seen opposing the move as it would play directly into the hands of Nigel Farage's Ukip.

Cameron has already had meetings with some rebels in an attempt to avert the worst and there will now be some feverish manoeuvers in the run up to Thursday's Commons debate to find some way out.