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At last week’s Spectator Parliamentarian Awards, Suella Braverman was awarded ‘Disruptor of the Year’. In her speech, which seemed to preview her Commons statement on Wednesday, the former home secretary joked that the prize ought, instead, to go to the man responsible ‘for disrupting my plans to cut the [immigration] numbers and deliver our manifesto pledge – the Prime Minister’. Rishi Sunak’s assembled supporters didn’t laugh.
On the issue of migration, battle lines have been drawn between the Tory tribes. The night before Braverman’s speech to the Commons, a trio of right-wing groups assembled to plot their strategy. Members were drawn from the European Research Group, the Common Sense Group and the New Conservatives. Around the same time, the reinvigorated One Nation caucus fired off a statement signalling their opposition to anything that would undermine Britain’s international obligations.
Opinions differ as to the strength of each faction. One moderate questions why Sunak spends so much time ‘listening to 15 New Conservatives and not 106 One Nation members’. But a right-wing rival compares the One Nation caucus to an onion, suggesting its layers can be peeled off with enough pressure. The jibing belies the seriousness of the issue: among 2019 Tory voters, immigration and asylum is currently the number one issue by 11 points. It even trumps concerns over the state of the economy, according to YouGov polling. The reasons are twofold: the constant stream of small boats crossing the Channel and the record net migration figures of 745,000 last year.
Net migration might have been less of an issue had the Tories had much to say on illegal migration. But so far, Sunak has failed to stop the boats – despite it being one of his key promises at the beginning of the year.