When he found out that a career-minded MP called Rishi Sunak had come out in favour of leaving the EU, David Cameron turned to George Osborne and declared: ‘We’ve lost the future of the party.’
Almost eight years later, Sunak should be turning to his own wing man – Oliver Dowden perhaps or even Cameron himself – and saying the same thing about the resignation of Robert Jenrick as immigration minister.
Because Jenrick quitting over the Rwanda Bill not being strong enough is an equally telling moment. The 41-year-old Jenrick comes from the same well-mannered, centre-right Tory tradition as Sunak. He is in politics for the long haul and undoubtedly sees a return to full Cabinet rank as part of his personal career plan.
He was sent by Sunak to the Home Office to man mark that wild card Suella Braverman. But he came to see that she was right on the fundamentals of migration policy of both the legal and illegal varieties.
And now he has quit Sunak’s administration, resigning both on a point of principle and as a result of a calculated analysis about the future direction and likely reservoirs of support of the Conservative party.
As a good performer on the Today programme and all-round smooth operator, Jenrick could easily have prospered in any ‘liberal Conservative’ government over the next 20 years. Clearly, he has gone because he does not think there is going to be such a government.
Instead, his political antennae have told him, correctly in my view, that the Conservative Party is going to lose the next election and then undergo a major reorientation that will see its patrician liberal wing of upper-class internationalists getting marginalised and then dropping out.
In their place will emerge an earthier, more provincial pro-nation state party that is genuinely socially conservative, particularly around the totemic issue of border control.