Rishi Sunak’s flagship Rwanda Bill “will fail” in its current form, Suella Braverman has said.
The PM finds himself in what could be the gravest crisis of his leadership so far, sparked by the resignation of immigration minister Robert Jenrick.
The former home secretary said Mr Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats” was key to winning the next election.
But the Rwanda Bill, which was published on Wednesday, “won’t work” Mrs Braverman said.
The government’s emergency Rwanda bill was designed to provide the deterrent effect the government wants, but avoids the more radical option of setting aside European human rights laws altogether – which would have been a step too far for the Rwandan government.
The legislation, which must be voted on by Parliament, gives ministers the powers to disregard sections of the Human Rights Act.
In the end, this compromise did not even satisfy Mr Sunak’s own immigration minister, Robert Jenrick who surprised No 10 by announcing his resignation shortly after it was published.
The prime minister has now split Mr Jenrick’s old job in two and filled it with MPs from the right of the party.
Mr Sunak moved Michael Tomlinson from his post as solicitor general to become the newly appointed illegal migration minister, and made Tom Pursglove the minister for legal migration.
As a result of the changes, the Rwanda policy will be part of Mr Tomlinson’s brief.
Mrs Braverman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the stopping small boats coming to the UK is “how we win the next election “.
She said: “The prime minister made the promise to stop the boats at the beginning of the year. We now need to deliver on that pledge.
“The time for talk, the time for slogans and promises is over. We need to show delivery and that’s what this debate right now is all about.”
A Downing Street source has said that Conservatives “need to operate within reality” and warned there is “no full fat option” for the Rwanda scheme.
The source said the current bill was “the only route to having a working deterrent scheme this side of the election” and that “anyone who believes in tough action to tackle illegal immigration must back it”
‘Unite or die’
The first vote on the bill will be on Tuesday. If the Tory right joined with Labour to vote it down, that could spell major trouble for the prime minister.
Mr Sunak dismissed suggestions he will make it a confidence vote – meaning that MPs would have the whip withdrawn if they defied him.
The fact that he is not wielding the ultimate threat suggests that he is not very confident he would win as things stand. The prime minister will no doubt spend the next few days on a massive effort to win round wavering MPs to support the legislation.
“What this vote is about is about confidence in Parliament to demonstrate that it gets the British people’s frustration,” Mr Sunak said.
He was speaking at a hastily organised press conference on Thursday to address some of the accusations against him and his bill. The fact that the prime minister felt compelled to call a press conference at such short notice is evidence that he and his team grasp the political peril he is now in.
There are some suggestions Conservative MPs might try to trigger a confidence vote in Mr Sunak’s leadership.
Some other Conservatives believe the party’s unruliness might compel Sunak to call a general election earlier than expected.
Shortly before Mr Jenrick’s resignation, the prime minister told Conservative MPs that they must unite or die.
Who is Robert Jenrick?
The former solicitor became a Conservative MP when he was elected in the 2014 by-election in the Nottinghamshire seat of Newark.
He was promoted into the cabinet as housing secretary in 2019 by then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Mr Jenrick, a 41-year-old father-of-three, also briefly served as a junior health minister in Liz Truss’s government, despite backing Mr Sunak for the Tory leadership.
As immigration minister he consistently pushed for a harder line on legal and illegal immigration, expressing frustration at the high levels of both.
He was also at the centre of several controversies, including a row over approving planning permission for Tory donor Richard Desmond.
Mr Jenrick was also criticised for ordering a mural of Disney characters at a child asylum centre to be painted over.