Sunak: Illegal migrants crossing to the UK down by a third

Last Wednesday after Prime Minister’s Questions, MPs in the House of Commons tea room looked up and were astonished to see the Prime Minister there.

Rishi Sunak was going from table to table schmoozing with Tory MPs, asking about their concerns and generally being affable.

“That almost never happens,” noted one former Cabinet Minister.

“Prime Ministers are very rarely seen in the tea room, especially this one.”

Invariably, the one reason Prime Ministers are sent to the tea room by their advisers is when they feel vulnerable to a plot.

Most MPs present were in no doubt this was the case with plotting against him in full swing after the reshuffle and sacking of now former Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

But as one veteran Conservative MP noted: “It’s not just the right [of the party] which is considering sending in letters, the whole range of opinion is worried and angry when they look at the polls and the prospects of them keeping their seats.”

So it is no surprise that, as one MP termed it “Operation Save Rishi Sunak” is in full swing – similar to “Operation Big Dog” to save Boris Johnson.

Here is what the Prime Minister and his allies are doing to save his political skin.

READ MORE: Jeremy Hunt must deliver tax cuts or Rishi Sunak is ‘in the last chance saloon’

1. Operation Schmooze

The Prime Minister’s trip to the team room in Parliament was not an isolated incident.

Just a couple of days after he had been accused of “giving up on the red wall”, he was in Bassetlaw in the East Midlands with the local Tory MP Brendan Clarke-Smith (a Boris Johnson ally), and Mansfield MP as well as East Midlands Mayor candidate Ben Bradley.

Both have been critics of the Prime Minister to different degrees and associated with those who want him out, but both (especially Clarke-Smith) are believed to be in the group of being nervous about yet another change of leader and are winnable over.

Not satisfied with that, invitations for private drinks in Downing Street are being sent out to potentially difficult MPs for the Prime Minister to discuss his vision.

2. Operation Red Meat

While it is true that MPs across the board are worried about the Prime Minister’s leadership in light of polls so disastrous even he would lose his seat, there is no doubt that it is the right that poses the biggest threat.

To counter this, the Prime Minister and his team are going out of their way to try to reassure the right that the fact he sacked Ms Braverman and tacked to the left does not mean he is not championing rightwing policies.

For starters, after months of saying the government “cannot afford tax cuts”, the Chancellor suddenly last week started hinting there would be.

Then today in a hastily arranged speech – also part of a defensive rearguard – the Prime Minister confirmed Wednesday’s Autumn Statement will feature tax cuts.

As one Tory MP said: “For months they have said no to tax cuts, now all of a sudden by amazing coincidence we are going to get some. I wonder why?”

But it does not stop there.

Former Prime Minister and new Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron had suggested that he wanted to start splurging money on foreign aid again and bring it back to 0.7 percent of GDP.

Suddenly, he has accepted that Sunak’s 0.5 percent is “the new reality” on the aid figure in what is seen as an attempt to calm down angry MPs on the right.

Cameron was off to the 1922 Committee this evening with a brief to “sound right-wing”.

Ahead of the meeting, one MP said: “we know he will pretend to be more right-wing than he is to try to see off a vote of confidence.”

Even last week, Sunak’s response to Rwanda and not taking leaving the European Convention of Human Rights off the table “went further than colleagues expected”,” according to one MP on the right.

The tensions this has created between the One Nation group on the left of the Tories and groups on the right was illustrated this morning by an exchange on X between former minister Damian Green and New Conservative Jonathan Gullis.

Green Tweeted: “Leaning too far right puts off voters, Tory centrists say.”

Gullis sharply responded: “This Government is full of One Nation colleagues, all the way from the cabinet to the junior ministerial ranks. The overwhelming majority of our policies, as well as the electoral strategy, is nearly all One Nation. Own it! Stop trying the faux blame game on the centre right.”

  • Support fearless journalism
  • Read The Daily Express online, advert free
  • Get super-fast page loading

3. Operation Enforcer

Much to the alarm of many Conservative MPs, two allies of Rishi Sunak have suddenly become more prominent again.

Sir Gavin Williamson, who Sunak was forced to sack and had been away for months has suddenly been seen a lot in Parliament engaging with other MPs.

The second is Julian Smith, like Williamson a former Chief Whip and expert in party discipline, who is according to some MPs “in and out of Downing Street all the time even though he does not have an official job.”

The emergence of both again has made MPs suspicious that the Prime Minister is “prepared to use the dark arts to maintain discipline.”

One MP said: “Both Gavin and Julian know how to be enforcers. There is no doubt in my mind that they are ready to use the dark arts to protect the Prime Minister.”

That can be threats, information on MPs, promises of preferment – all sorts of material can be deployed.

4. Operation Common Sense

The Prime Minister may be lacking in allies on the right but he does have a couple who could prove invaluable.

A number of MPs hoping for a leadership vote have been annoyed that Lee Anderson, who had vehemently supported Suella Braverman as Home Secretary, has remained as Deputy Chairman and openly said there should not be another change of leader.

The trust Sunak invested in Anderson months ago and the leeway he gave the Ashfield MP to speak his mind and have a show on GB News is now paying dividends.

Anderson is influential with some on the right of the party and popular with members although others are getting impatient.

“I don’t know what Lee is up to,” said one potential rebel. “He needs to see the bigger picture here.”

The second part of this strategy was bringing in Esther McVey as the new Minister for Common Sense.

Some are dismissing this as “a sop” and a “non-job” but McVey is a serious figure and an effective communicator who, if she can change some policies, can demonstrate that he has not given up on the right.

5. Operation Cross Fingers

Suella Braverman was seen today in the Commons for the first time since she was sacked looking in quite good spirits.

But there is a sense that Downing Street and the people around Rishi Sunak have their fingers crossed at the moment that her supporters cannot make a move.

For one thing, there seems to be no real organisation to get the letters into the chairman of the 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady, and no whipping operation in place to ensure that there was a sizeable vote against the Prime Minister if a vote of confidence is triggered.

One veteran MP noted: “I’m worried that the drip, drip of letters could trigger a vote and the Prime Minister will win too easily because there won’t be anybody organising the vote against him. There’s a certain amount of inexperience among [2019] MPs who have not been here that long which could lead to this happening.”

The other issue playing in the Prime Minister’s favour is that there is no obvious candidate to replace him

One of the MPs behind a potential push to replace Sunak admitted there are “five options all with serious flaws”.

They are: Penny Mordaunt “too woke”; James Cleverly “nobody knows what he believes”; Kemi Badenoch “has really annoyed Brexiteers”; Priti Patel “a Marmite character” and Ms Braverman “too divisive a figure to lead”.

In light of there not being an obvious replacement, Mr Sunak may have some hope that enough MPs will not think it is worth triggering another vote in his leadership.

Reports of “dozens of letters” already submitted are not true, but, as one MP noted” “dozens of colleagues are thinking about it.”

As things stand, the best guess is that January will be “make or break” for the Prime Minister and the point where Tory MPs need to decide whether to act or stick with the man currently in charge.

Source: Read Full Article