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Sunak facing small boats battle in his own constituency

Sunak Rwanda
Sunak Rwanda

Rishi Sunak’s constituents want him to expel migrants who illegally cross the Channel in small boats without a right of appeal, as polling suggests the Prime Minister is out of touch with voters.

Mr Sunak’s constituency of Richmond, North Yorkshire – which will become Richmond and Northallerton under boundary changes – is one of 111 in which an outright majority of voters want small boat arrivals to be removed without appeal.

In a further 415 constituencies, the option of removing illegal small boat migrants without appeal is the most popular option without being backed by an outright majority of voters.

The findings suggest public opinion is in line with Robert Jenrick’s plan to toughen Mr Sunak’s Rwanda Bill by making it harder for people arriving illegally to block their removal through the UK courts.

The data come from a YouGov poll of 14,000 people in England, Wales and Scotland, which also predicts that Labour would win a 120-seat majority if an election was held in the near future.

Mr Sunak and other members of the Government are expected to vote against the amendment by Mr Jenrick, the former immigration minister, when it comes before the Commons.

When voters in 575 constituencies in England and Wales were asked whether they backed removing small boat arrivals without appeal, removing them but with a right to appeal, or allowing them to enter the country and go through the current asylum process, removing without appeal was the most popular option in 516 constituencies.

Even when support for the two alternative options was added together, support for removal without appeal beat that combined total in 392 constituencies.

The option of allowing people to stay in the UK while their claims are assessed is the most popular alternative in just 59 constituencies.

The biggest level of support for removing illegal migrants without appeal is in Boston and Skegness, Lincolnshire, where more than 60 per cent of voters back it. The newly-created constituency of Hornsey and Friern Barnet, in London, is the most opposed to removal without appeal, with just 19.5 per cent of voters backing that option.

The poll shows strong support for toughening up immigration laws among the constituents of Cabinet ministers, including those of the man responsible for countering illegal entries.

In Richmond and Northallerton, which replaces Mr Sunak’s Richmond constituency at the election, 50.2 per cent of voters want small boat arrivals removed immediately without the right of appeal, compared with 21 per cent who think they should be allowed to stay and fight their case.

It is a similar story for Michael Tomlinson, who attends Cabinet in his role as minister of state for countering illegal migration.

In his Mid Dorset and North Poole constituency, 48.4 per cent of voters want illegal arrivals removed without appeal, with 22 per cent in favour of allowing them to stay while being processed and 15 per cent saying they should be removed but with a right of appeal.

Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, is forecast to be unseated by the Lib Dems when he contests the newly-created constituency of Godalming and Ash, where 42 per cent of voters support removal without appeal and 28.4 per cent think arrivals should be allowed to stay in the country while claims are processed.

Victoria Prentis, the Attorney General, who was tasked with drawing up the Rwanda Bill, represents Banbury, where 42.7 per cent favour removal without appeal. The poll forecasts that she will lose her seat to Labour.

Alex Chalk, the Justice Secretary, also represents a constituency – Cheltenham – in which removal without appeal is the most popular option, with 35.8 per cent support to 32.3 per cent for allowing entry and 16.6 per cent in favour of removal with appeals. He is on course for defeat by the Lib Dems.

Some of the strongest voices opposing Mr Jenrick’s proposed amendment appear to be out of kilter with public opinion in their seats.

Damian Green, the former deputy prime minister who has condemned the Rwanda plan as dictatorial and unconservative, represents Ashford in Kent, where 48.3 per cent of voters want small boat arrivals removed without appeal, with just 18.9 per cent favouring allowing arrivals to stay in the UK while they are processed.

Alicia Kearns, who will contest the newly-formed Melton and Syston constituency, is a key member of the centrist One Nation group of Tories who are opposed to the Jenrick plan. In the new constituency, 50.8 per cent of people back it.

Tory MPs who have backed Mr Jenrick’s toughened version of the Rwanda Bill will be reassured by the poll that they are representing the views of their constituents.

In Mr Jenrick’s Newark constituency, 49 per cent of voters back immediate removal of small boat arrivals without appeal, compared to 21 per cent for allowing entry for processing. Mr Jenrick is predicted to hold on to his seat at the general election.

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is expected to vote for Mr Jenrick’s amendment, will fight the newly-created North East Somerset and Hanham constituency, where 45.1 per cent favour removal without appeal and 24.4 per cent believe in allowing entry for processing. Sir Jacob is expected to be re-elected with a reduced majority.

Lee Anderson, the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, who has indicated that he will vote for the Jenrick amendment, sees a massive 55.5 per cent support for removal without appeal in his Ashfield constituency.

Only 14.9 per cent of his constituents think small boat arrivals should be allowed to stay in the UK while their claims are processed.

Mr Anderson is in danger of losing his seat to Labour because of a surge in support for Reform UK.

A clear majority of voters – 60 per cent – do not believe that Mr Sunak’s Rwanda Bill, in its current form, will reduce the number of people crossing the Channel in small boats.

Just 19 per cent think the Bill, which proposes sending illegal migrants to Rwanda to claim asylum but will enable them to appeal against the decision in the courts, will reduce the number of crossings.

Of that 19 per cent, just two percentage points think the crossings will stop completely as a result of the legislation being put before Parliament this week.

It is worth noting that YouGov did not ask voters whether they favour illegal migrants being removed to Rwanda, just whether they favoured them being removed from the country – which could in theory involve them being sent back to France or their country of origin.

The collapse in support for the Conservatives in Red Wall seats appears to be fuelled, at least in part, by dissatisfaction over the Tories’ record on migration and how to get it down, according to the poll.

The Tories are forecast to lose all the Red Wall seats they won from Labour in 2019, when Boris Johnson attracted huge working class support with his promise to “get Brexit done”, which was driven in large part by voters’ desire to get a grip on immigration.

The poll shows that, in the north of England, 73.5 per cent of defectors from the Tories agree that illegal arrivals in small boats should be removed from the country immediately with no right of appeal.

Only 18 per cent think there should be a right of appeal, either during the removal process or while being allowed to stay in the UK, with the rest undecided.

When it comes to Reform UK voters, many of whom have switched from the Conservatives, 95 per cent favour removal without appeal.

In the south of England, 67.7 per cent of Conservative defectors favour removal without appeal.

Illegal Channel crossings only account for a fraction of total net migration, which reached a record high of 745,000 in 2022. Voters also want this number to come down.

The poll shows that 50 per cent of all those surveyed want overall migration to come down, with 23 per cent thinking it should stay the same and 15 per cent wanting more migration.

In every region other than London and Scotland, those who want migration to fall are in a clear majority. Among Conservative defectors, 76 per cent want lower migration and only eight per cent want more migration.