Brexit used to cause every Tory civil war – now it is immigration

Sir John Hayes outlines the scale of net migration to Britain

A strange thing happened in the Commons last week – strange even by the recent standards of strange goings-on in the Palace of Westminster.

Sir John Hayes, a veteran grandee of the Conservative benches who is the closest political friend and ally to Home Secretary Suella Braverman, held a debate in Westminster Hall where he literally tore apart her record on immigration.

How could a man who has literally been a mentor to the most under siege minister do such a thing?

The answer was simple. Sir John was not speaking against Ms Braverman he was speaking on her behalf, speaking the truths that she would like to say in public but cannot because of Cabinet collective responsibility.

Sir John was in fact attacking Jeremy Hunt, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan and all the others aligned against taking back control of Britain’s borders and clamping down on immigration figures.

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It was a desperate tactic but arguably Ms Braverman is in an increasingly desperate situation in this government.

In the wilderness that is Rishi Sunak’s cabinet, Ms Braverman has become the lone voice crying out against the record levels of legal immigrants (never mind the small boats) arriving in the UK.

Arrayed against her is almost the entire government led by the Chancellor who somehow think that economic growth can only be achieved if Britain opens its doors to as many people as possible who want to come here.

Keegan is a particularly strong ally on this issue for Hunt because of the pressure from universities who claim (falsely) that allowing unlimited visas to students and their entire extended families is absolutely necessary for them to remain as world leading institutions.

Even Kemi Badenoch, the other supposed champion of the right, has not exactly come to Ms Braverman’s aid in her role as Business Secretary.

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But despite her lonely position in Government, Ms Braverman is not without allies.

Influential groups of MPs on the right of the party like Hayes’ Common Sense Group or Danny Kruger’s New Conservatives and even the Brexiteer European Research Group are largely lined up behind her.

The New Conservatives this week launched their own paper on bringing immigration figures down significantly as part of a policy platform that recognises the post Brexit realignment in British politics.

They understand that the former Labour heartlands in the Red Wall seats with working class voters who hate mass immigration because it dilutes their public services and earnings while putting pressure on housing, are the constituency they should be aiming at.

More to it is the promise of Brexit – “take back control”.

As one Red Wall MP and supporter of Ms Braverman pointed out: “Taking back control of our borders was the point whether it was legal or illegal immigration.

“Those who want Brexit to fail, want to stop us controlling our borders.”

And it is true to say that the ministers now lined up against Ms Braverman in the Cabinet were mostly Remainers.

It feels a long time off from when Rishi Sunak brought her back as Home Secretary on the promise that he would let her take control of immigration and do what was necessary.

Since then Sunak failed to put reducing legal immigration in his key pledges.

He then disavowed the target of bringing net migration below 100,000 and now there are briefings going around that Ms Braverman could be the biggest casualty in a reshuffle.

As one ally of Ms Braverman’s noted: “If they are thinking about doing that there are a number of calculations they are fogetting about which would make [getting rid of her] very difficult.”

Among those is that Ms Braverman now is the sole rightwinger in a Cabinet of “useless wet liberal technocrats who believe in nothing” as one Tory MP put it.

Removing her would cement the Conservative civil war which exploded over the Boris Johnson debacle and probably unite a very unhappy right of the Conservative Party against Mr Sunak.

As things stand, support within the Tory ranks is very tenuous for the Prime Minister.

But it is not as if this has not happened to Ms Braverman before.

She was forced out by Liz Truss officially for breaking rules by sharing a briefing with the very same Sir John Hayes but in reality because Truss wanted mass migration for economic growth while Braverman wanted it hugely reduced.

Truss was furious that Braverman had scupered a trade deal with India on the immigration easy visas issue.

Not many days after Truss was gone too and Braverman was back.

There is serious doubt though that economic growth is really helped by mass immigration.

Yes it is an easy way to fill cheap vacancies, but it also adds massively to costs of public services and welfare.

Most economic migrants are low wage not the high skilled high earning variety that really drive economic growth.

Meanwhile, as Hayes put it, the equaivalent of 15 British cities added in 20 years has a massively destabilising effect on the country.

We only need to look across the Channel to what is happening in France to see what can happen.

The truth, though, is that while Braverman and Hunt are the faces of this debate, it is not about personalities, it is about what the future of Conservatisim is and what the future direction of the country will be.

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