A Supreme Court ruling this week could provide a fresh crisis for the Tories
Suella Braverman is out, but she leaves behind a massive and immediate problem for Rishi Sunak: what to do if the Government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is judged to be illegal?
The Supreme Court is due to rule on the matter this week and if the verdict goes against the Government, then its immigration policy — and especially its pledge to stop the small boats — will be thrown into confusion.
According to Dan Hodges in the Mail on Sunday, Braverman’s solution was to respond with a snap election, thus bypassing the judges to take the Government’s case to the people. Apparently, the idea has some support in Downing Street.
There’s a parallel here with the run-up to 2019 election, which also featured a Supreme Court decision — on whether it was legal for the government to prorogue Parliament in an attempt to break the Brexit deadlock. The Court ruled against — a decision that Remainers foolishly took to be a famous victory. In fact, Boris Johnson used it to argue that the establishment would do anything to block Brexit, while he would do anything to get it done. The result was to rally the Leave vote behind the Conservatives.
Could the Tories pull off the same trick again? Immigration is an adjacent issue to Brexit, so might it inspire a similar win? Not a chance.
For a start, it’s doubtful that voters are ready to focus on immigration right now. Recent polling from More in Common shows that the cost of living is their top issue by a wide margin, followed by the NHS and then climate change. “Asylum seekers crossing the Channel” is only the fourth-placed issue. What’s more, the Sunak government, with its bizarrely random policy agenda — e.g. compulsory maths, scrapping HS2 and cracking down on pedicabs — has not laid the groundwork for a single-issue snap election.
But the biggest problem is that even if voters were minded to focus on migration — and specifically the small boat crossings — there’s no obvious reason why they would reward the Conservatives.
In 2019, there was a very good excuse for why so little progress had been made on Brexit: there was a Remain majority in the Commons that obstructed the Government at every turn. For Leave voters, the case for a Conservative majority was clear. But having won that majority — and a mandate to take back control of our borders — voters can only look at the record of the last four years and wonder why the boats are still coming. Why can’t a government that placed an entire nation under house arrest stop the people smugglers?
It’s no use ministers blaming obstructive elements in the Home Office or the judiciary — not when the governing party has the numbers and the mandate to take back control of the British state. In these circumstances, running to the electorate to seek a second mandate looks pitifully weak.
Instead of the triumph of 2019, such a move would invite the humiliation of February 1974. That was when Edward Heath, beleaguered by striking miners, fought a snap election on the theme of “who governs Britain?” “Obviously not you!” was the voters’ answer. Heath was booted out of office, never to return.
Of all the ill-judged things that Sunak could do now, the stupidest would be to ask the same question.