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Sunak will never recover from this immigration betrayal

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at 10 Downing Street
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at 10 Downing Street

It now seems clear that Rishi Sunak repeatedly blocked attempts by Suella Braverman to implement policies that would bring down the level of immigration. For millions of us who are beyond exasperation at being let down time and again on this issue, that revelation on its own amounts to a sackable offence and puts us into a state of stone-cold fury.

The latest revelations, reported today by The Telegraph, show how the former home secretary’s pleas to Downing Street to implement a raft of measures, including higher minimum earnings thresholds for migrant workers and stricter controls over the student route, fell on deaf ears. She sent clampdown proposals to Sunak no fewer than six times and on each occasion he declined to give her the green light to implement them.

Whether Mrs Braverman quite has proof that Sunak stalled on an immigration clampdown in direct contravention of an earlier cast-iron promise to her doesn’t really matter (though on balance it appears that he did). The key point is that we know he did it in direct contravention of an earlier promise to the British people.

The Conservative manifesto of 2019 could not have been clearer about immigration, pledging “overall numbers will come down”. Yet when Sunak became PM he knew full well that this promise was already badly off course. Boris Johnson had bequeathed him net migration running at more than half a million per year.

In office Johnson, who has comically now decided to pose as a mass migration sceptic, had authorised the lowering of earnings thresholds, the expansion of the shortage occupation list, an explosion of student visas, and large-scale schemes for Hong Kong and Ukraine nationals. The stratospherically high immigration levels that ensued were an entirely predictable consequence of those policies. Yet Sunak simply didn’t care that the Tories were on course to trash their immigration promises to the country for the fourth term in a row.

It comes to something when a Tory prime minister can be outflanked to the Right on immigration policy by the Labour frontbench. But that is the position Sunak is in now following Labour shadow minister Darren Jones pledging on television yesterday that his party will aim to reduce net migration to “a couple of hundred thousand” a year.

Amazingly, Sunak has not committed to any target at all, merely contenting himself with saying that immigration is too high and that the volume should come down. He even spent this morning boasting about how liberal the visa regime is for foreign students and entrepreneurs. A more tin-eared intervention is difficult to imagine.

Faced with poll evidence of rising support for the Reform UK party, of which Nigel Farage is president, Sunak also came out with a lame weekend warning to voters that if they vote Farage they will get Starmer. For such a gambit to be effective Tory-leaning voters would need to think Sunak himself was materially preferable to Starmer. And mounting polling evidence suggests that many simply don’t.

Although most have clocked that Starmer is as slippery as a bar of soap in a bath, they also know that he is no Jeremy Corbyn. If anything they think Sunak and Starmer are interchangeable: two high tax, high migration technocratic “centrists”, neither of whom will divert the country from its current passage towards hell in a handcart.

But whereas their hostility towards Starmer is mainly ideological, increasingly their hostility towards Sunak is laced with a sense of outright betrayal. We may be reaching the stage when habitual Tory voters yearn for the humiliating defeat of the Tory party with just as much intensity as do habitual Labour ones.

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