April 15, 2024

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Chris Mason: Mood in Conservative Party bleak after Jenrick’s resignation

3 min read

Rishi Sunak is seeking a route to Rwanda for migrants that is legally, practically and politically navigable.

Chris Mason: Mood in Conservative Party bleak after Jenrick's resignation
Chris Mason: Mood in Conservative Party bleak after Jenrick’s resignation

Legally, because he has to find a way to address the concerns of the Supreme Court, who said his earlier plan was unlawful.

Practically, because he wants migrants on planes to Rwanda before the general election.

And politically because he has to simultaneously persuade those broadly on the left of his party who fret about any ideas they might regard as extreme and those on the right who fret he doesn’t have the stomach to go far enough.

And the blunt truth is we now know his now former immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, thinks he’s destined to fail, again. He had been talking to the prime minister for around a week about his concerns – and now he has resigned.

This matters because cutting illegal immigration matters to hundreds of Conservative MPs and millions of voters.

It matters, too, because having been a cork on Conservative chaos for much of his year and a bit as prime minister – in contrast to what came immediately before under Liz Truss and Boris Johnson – a moment like this has the potential to send that cork whizzing over the No10 garden wall.

Senior figures are musing privately that they wouldn’t be surprised if Mr Sunak ended up facing a confidence vote from his own MPs.

“Lots of MPs are concerned about their seats and the polls, and they’re rapidly forming the view the current management is not performing and will not deliver an election win,” one senior Tory MP said.

“The danger is we get a confidence vote by accident because if one MP says ‘I’m putting my letter in’ others do too’.”

The MP added: “I just want him to do better and listen to us. I actually want him to win the next general election, but frankly to please both wings of the party on an issue like this is impossible, and that’s where leadership is important.”

Another told me: “Rishi wouldn’t lose a confidence vote. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he faced one.”

Chris Mason: Mood in Conservative Party bleak after Jenrick's resignation
Chris Mason: Mood in Conservative Party bleak after Jenrick’s resignation

A recurring theme from many Conservative MPs in private is a fear the leadership lacks a coherent strategy.

And all this in the very week the government was trying to make the case it was making progress on migration.

Sources would whisper that gone were the fireworks of Suella Braverman – the former home secretary – and now came the action.

And yet at the very moment the current Home Secretary James Cleverly was in Kigali, rebooting the government’s plan to send some migrants to Rwanda, Mr Jenrick was telling the prime minister why it wouldn’t work.

So, what happens next? Does Mr Jenrick’s resignation galvanise a wider revolt that spins away into something perilous for the prime minister? After all, he was the in-house expert on immigration who has left because he reckons the new Rwanda plan is hopeless.

Or do Conservative MPs conclude yet another blast of the collywobbles would be unforgivably indulgent?

Excitable chatter is the currency of exchange at Westminster and the chatter about confidence votes and the like might not come to anything.

But the chatter is a measure of the mood among many Conservatives.

And the mood is bleak.

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