As they headed into the autumn, Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives needed a gamechanger. Their gradual recovery in the polls from the dog days of Liz Truss had stalled not very far from base camp and began sliding into reverse.
Destroying what was left of the party’s reputation on the most important issue to its 2019 voter coalition was not the gamechanger many people had in mind. But that is what has occurred following the sacking of Suella Braverman and subsequent developments on both legal and illegal immigration.
After the devastating Supreme Court verdict on the Rwanda plan and then scarcely believable official statistics documenting the vast scale of legal immigration taking place on his watch, there was Braverman blowing the whistle on Sunak’s refusal to implement effective measures to bolster UK borders.
Not only has Sunak been outed for failing to live up to his promise to ‘strain every sinew’ to stop the boats, but also now for reportedly rebuffing six times in a row Braverman’s policy packages for reducing legal immigration. The Prime Minister took office knowing that Boris Johnson had broken the 2019 manifesto promise that ‘overall numbers will come down’ and decided to do nothing to remedy the situation.
Given the weight of vested interests in favour of running a very relaxed migration regime, embracing corporate employers, business lobby groups, the university sector and migration-orientated charities, it would have taken a fiercely determined premier to turn things around. But Sunak was never that man, as he showed in an interview with Paul Goodman of the Conservative Home website back in April. He told Goodman that it was the small boats rather than overall immigration volumes that was the big issue for most people.
This is what Sunak and those around him wish to be true.