Analysis: Rishi Sunak has no challengers but leadership crisis still devouring party

Rishi Sunak came in to steady the ship, but instead it is crashing on the rocks.

Rishi Sunak is facing his biggest crisis yet, with the Rwanda scheme threatening to engulf his party.

Much like Brexit saw the end of Theresa May, there is a growing feeling among Tory MPs the scheme could be the end of the Prime Minister. The difference is Mrs May did not choose to leave Europe, whereas this headache is largely due to Mr Sunak’s own making.

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In pursing the Rwanda deal, Mr Sunak made immigration a wedge issue, believing it a weapon to wield against the Labour party, allowing him to question Sir Keir Starmer’s failure to ever vote for tighter border restrictions.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is battling to keep his party together.Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is battling to keep his party together.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is battling to keep his party together.

Instead, his Government have made repeated promises only to see immigration soar, while at the same time pursuing a scheme many in Government never really thought would work. In doing so, he has agitated the right of his party and created an enemy within.

First there was Suella Braverman, already a figurehead for the Tory right, who in sacking became a powerful enemy. Now the Prime Minister has now lost immigration minister Robert Jenrick, who resigned over the latest changes to the Rwanda deal.

Unlike Ms Braverman, this is not seen as a leadership pitch. In fact, it’s so much worse. The pair were friends, allies and had worked together closely on immigration. Despite this closeness, Mr Jenrick has still decided Mr Sunak cannot get the job done. His departure is beyond damaging.

The Prime Minister finds himself in a position where his deal is too hardcore for the party left, not far enough for the Tory right, by refusing to leave the European Convention of Human Rights, and also likely to enrage both because the Government think it could breach international treaties regardless.

Now some Tory MPs are sending in letters of no confidence and, while a vote is unlikely, that they’d risk a fourth prime minister in the same Parliament speaks to the crisis at the heart of the party.

Downing Street have moved quickly to replace Mr Jenrick, adding Tom Pursglove MP to the Cabinet, the most right-wing option. But when so few MPs support the Rwanda scheme, there is every chance Mr Sunak is once again facing a stare-down with his own party.

The problem is, there is no challenger. Speaking to MPs, even those on the right of the party, there is no obvious candidate to take over, at least not one who could command party support.

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One former minister told The Scotsman a change was obviously coming, but nobody could make any plans for it until after the election. They explained “it’s only then that we’ll know if we’ve got anyone left”.

So much like Boris Johnson’s reasoning for keeping then health secretary Matt Hancock in post during the pandemic, many of the MPs loyal to Mr Sunak are doing so because of a lack of alternative. They see no way to win, but believe removing him could see them do worse.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Mr Sunak insisted everything was fine, and these new changes were actually a problem for Labour, claiming he was a man of action, not words. The problem is, his own MPs increasingly don’t believe him, and may soon spring to action of their own.



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