Peer Pressure: Why Sunak's Fight With The Lords Has Sparked A New Tory Civil War

The unelected prime minister says the "appointed" upper chamber must back his Rwanda plan.
Why Rishi Sunak's Decision To Go To War With The House Of Lords Could Blow Up In His Face
Why Rishi Sunak's Decision To Go To War With The House Of Lords Could Blow Up In His Face
Illustration:Jianan Liu/HuffPost; Photo:Getty Images

Rishi Sunak doesn’t really do irony.

If he did, he would probably have spotted the flaw in his plan to call on the House of Lords not to obstruct the “elected” House of Commons’ decision to back his Safety of Rwanda Bill.

Which is a bit rich coming from an unelected prime minister who, when he did put himself up to a vote of Tory members to become the party’s leader, managed to lose to Liz Truss.

No wonder he has faced charges of hypocrisy since embarking on this particular political gambit.

But that wasn’t the only mis-step in the prime minister’s latest attempts to finally get deportation flights to Rwanda off the ground.

By deciding to go into battle against the Lords, Sunak has succeeded in opening up a fresh flank in the ongoing Tory civil war.

HuffPost UK has learned that Conservative peers - many of whom are already deeply sceptical about the Rwanda policy - have been left furious by Sunak’s approach.

One said: “There are ways to get the House of Lords onside and standing up at a lectern hectoring them is not the way to do it, especially when not all Conservatives are fully on board with this policy.

“You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

“It also means that Labour, Lib Dem and crossbench peers will make more of an effort to come in and try to vote the bill down. He’s just galvanised the opposition.”

Rishi Sunak urged peers not to "frustrate the will of the people".
Rishi Sunak urged peers not to "frustrate the will of the people".
STEFAN ROUSSEAU via Getty Images

Referring to last week’s Tory rebellions over Rwanda, a Lords insider said: “Conservative peers are just as divided as their MPs over this. Sunak should be more worried about blue-on-blue attacks than he is about the Lords blocking his bill, which isn’t going to happen.”

A senior Conservative spotted another flaw in the PM’s strategy.

“If you’re going to make the argument that the unelected second chamber shouldn’t block legislation backed by the Commons, it might help if you’re policy is to have an elected second chamber,” they said. “But that’s not his policy, which rather undermines his argument.”

Despite eventually winning MPs’ backing for his Rwanda plan, it has been another tough week for the prime minister, with senior Tories openly declaring that his plan to “stop the boats” carrying asylum seekers across the Channel will not work.

The latest polling showing the Tories are now as unpopular as they were under Liz Truss and are heading for a 1997-style electoral wipeout suggests that voters have noticed.

Meanwhile, Keir Starmer’s decision to once again lead on immigration at prime minister’s questions demonstrated the Labour leader’s confidence that his party is now more trusted on it that the Tories.

A senior Labour insider said: “The reason we can do that is we’re pretty happy with our own position on it, but also because Sunak’s handling of it is just farcical.

“It’s an emblem of a government who talk and talk and talk but don’t deliver. If you’re going to keep raising the salience of illegal immigration, you’d better be able to fix it.”

Inevitably, grumblings have also emerged this week about more letters of no confidence in Sunak’s leadership to 1922 Committee chair Sir Graham Brady.

Talk of 30 going in - still well short of the 53 needed to trigger a vote - are probably inflated, but it does highlight once again how precarious the PM’s position is.

One senior Tory said: “You can look at every election in the last 100 years and every time, the party who are most trusted on the economy and have the best leader wins.

“The public thinks he’s a geeky numbers boy and they’re alright with that, so he should lean into that rather than the immigration stuff.

“It’s like he’s got no political memory beyond the time he’s actually been in parliament. He’s looked at Boris winning by saying ‘get Brexit done’ and thinks all he needs to do is say ‘get Rwanda done’, but that’s wrong. It just looks like he doesn’t really believe in anything.”

One veteran Tory backbencher insisted that despite the gloom enveloping his party, Sunak can still pull off a shock.

He said: “Rishi is safe until the election, which is probably going to be on November 14. And I think we’ll come out of it the largest party.”

It’s fair to say this is not a majority view among Tory MPs. But after another grim week in No.10, it’s a scenario the prime minister would happily trade his right arm for.


What's Hot