A cabinet minister has played down the suggestion of a government split on the Rwanda asylum plan after the home secretary said it was not the “be all and end all” of migration policy.
Backbench Tory MPs have criticised James Cleverly after he urged people not to “fixate” on the controversial deportation scheme, and said that leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) would undermine attempts to stop the boats.
Laura Trott, the chief secretary to the Treasury, told Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips the home secretary was on the same page as the prime minister, who has pledged to do “whatever is necessary” to ensure flights take off.
She said Rwanda remains “central” to the government’s promise to stop Channel crossings and “both are saying it is part of the plan, it is not all of the plan”.
Ms Trott said small boat crossings have already reduced despite no flights taking off with the £140m deal held up by legal challenges for over a year.
“We have successfully, in the last year, bought the numbers of people coming over here illegally down by a third,” she said.
“That is at a time when the numbers coming into Europe are up by 80%.”
Ms Trott went onto say that she was not worried about the Reform UK party outflanking the Conservatives from the right if the government fails to make true on its stop the boats pledge.
“I’d be very clear that a vote for Reform or any other party which is not Conservative is a vote for Keir Starmer as prime minister.
“But what I would say is one of the reasons it’s so important for me to come on shows like yours is for us to communicate as a government what we are doing to stop the boats.”
Reform UK, previously the Brexit Party, has only taken small proportions of the vote in recent by-elections.
But that has not stopped some Conservatives fearing that Richard Tice’s party could exploit voter unhappiness over small boats at the next general election – especially given the advance of anti-immigration parties in other European countries.
Mr Sunak’s stop the boats pledge faced a huge set back this month after the Supreme Court ruled the plan to deport asylum seekers who arrive by unauthorised means to Rwanda to be unlawful.
Although Mr Sunak has doubled down on the policy, with a plan to sign a new legally binding treaty with Rwanda aimed at addressing the judges’ concerns, Mr Cleverly appeared to take a more measured approach when he wrote in the Times: “My frustration is that we have allowed the narrative to be created that this was the be all and end all.
“The mission is to stop the boats. That’s the promise to the British people. Never lose sight of the mission. There are multiple methods. Don’t fixate on the methods. Focus on the mission.”
It comes amid a separate row over the levels of legal migration to the UK, after new figures revealed net migration is at an all-time high – despite a Conservative 2019 manifesto pledge to bring numbers down.
Mr Sunak is under pressure from Tory MPs to take radical measures to make true on that pledge, including significantly increasing the minimum salary requirement to get a work visa and capping the number of health and social work visas.