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Rishi gets tough at last, but will he regret not acting sooner?


RISHI Sunak has never been an immigration hardliner.

The sight of small boats crossing the Channel illegally offends his sense of fair play. But until now he has shown little enthusiasm for getting serious about tackling the record levels of legal migration seen in the past two years.

According to Government insiders he took ‘no interest’ in the issue during his years as Chancellor, and was happy to follow the Treasury’s traditional line of arguing that immigration is good for the economy.

When Suella Braverman presented him with a list of proposals for cutting legal migration, he appears to have paid lip service to it. But, according to the former Home Secretary, six subsequent letters calling for action on the issue went unanswered – a waste of precious months he may come to regret.

When new figures last month showed that net immigration had soared to a record 745,000 last year, he was left with no choice but to act. Even then, few would have predicted he would come forward with a package designed to cut numbers by as much as 300,000 a year.

But, over the weekend, the Prime Minister appears to have become convinced that getting tough on immigration might grab the public’s attention and finally start to shift the opinion polls.

A package of measures that was not expected until next year was pulled together in a matter of hours on Sunday, and toughened up significantly in the process.

Today, Home Secretary James Cleverly is expected to sign a new treaty with Rwanda that is designed to overcome the Supreme Court’s opposition to the Government’s flagship plan to deter the small-boat Channel migrants.

‘The PM is in get-it- done mode now,’ said one ally last night.

He needs to be. Recent polls have sapped morale even among some of the PM’s closest supporters, leading to an air of quiet desperation.

Back in January, when he launched his five pledges – including the famous promise to ‘stop the boats’ – allies warned it might take 12 months for the polls to start turning. But 12 months on there is no evidence of a positive shift – in fact, things appear to be getting worse.

One study yesterday found that Mr Sunak is now polling worse than Liz Truss among Conservative voters.

Another, for the grassroots Tory website Conservative Home, found that his net approval rating among party activists had slumped to a record low of -25, described by the site’s editor as ‘dire’.

Colleagues say there are even signs that Mr Sunak has begun to feel a little sorry for himself.

In recent weeks he has been heard to compare his fate with that of his beloved Southampton Football Club, who were relegated from the Premier League last season and are a few points off the pace in the battle to go back up.

Supporters insist it is not for the want of trying. In the past three months, the PM has hit the brakes on the rush to Net Zero, shaken up his Cabinet and even cut taxes. But none of it has so far shifted Labour’s poll lead.

All of this has led to growing unhappiness among Tory MPs. Some have even been muttering quietly about the previously impossible – and probably catastrophic – idea of trying to install yet another new leader before the general election.

Yesterday’s tougher than expected package went some way to calming angry MPs on the Tory Right, who had become increasingly vocal in urging the PM to get tough.

But it may have come too late to shift the public mood. Many of the new measures will not come into force until April – if then – and a lag in publishing the annual migration statistics means they are unlikely to have any meaningful impact on numbers ahead of the election.

Once again, Mr Sunak may find that he has taken what he considers to be radical action, only to find that an ungrateful public has barely noticed.





dmg media (UK)