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Dire Tory Polling Intensifies Right-Wing Pressure On Rishi Sunak Over Rwanda

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (Alamy)

5 min read

An explosive new YouGov poll predicting a Labour general election landslide has been viewed as a move by the Tory right to enhance pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to take a more hardline approach to deporting migrants to Rwanda when legislation returns to the House of Commons votes this week. 

The polling, published by The Telegraph on Sunday night, said Labour would win a 120-seat House of Commons majority based on current public opinion, in what would amount to the biggest drop in support for a governing party in well over 100 years.

The poll is what is known as a multilevel regression and poststratification (MRP) poll, which is generally regarded as one of the most accurate means of estimating public opinion. This sort of survey typically takes several weeks to put together and is believed to have cost those who commissioned it to YouGov tens of thousands of pounds due to the level of work needed to carry it out.

The survey of over 14,000 people was commissioned by the former Brexit negotiator Lord Frost, who is aligned with the right-wing of the parliamentary Conservative party, and the seemingly new Conservative Britain Alliance. According to The Telegraph the group is comprised of donors to the Tory party, but little else is publicly known about who exactly is involved.

In a piece accompanying the findings, Lord Frost said the prediction of a Tory wipeout showed that Sunak needed, among other things, to "be as tough as it takes on immigration" in order to give the Conservative party any chance of avoiding defeat to Labour at the next general election.

The Telegraph's report claimed the data shows that right-wing party Reform contesting seats nationwide at the next general election, which must be called before the end of this year, will be the difference between Labour being returned the largest party in a hung parliament, and a large Labour majority. Reform's hardline approach to immigration is seen as a big reason why the party led by Richard Tice threatens to take votes from the Conservatives.

YouGov has however challenged The Telegraph's interpretation of its polling on a number of ways.  

In a statement released on Monday, the polling company said it was the newspaper's "own calculation", not theirs, that Reform contesting the 2024 general election is the difference between Starmer's Labour winning a House of Commons majority and not. They added that this piece of the newspaper's analysis is not "reliable" as YouGov research shows just a third of people who intend to vote Reform would switch to the Conservatives if Tice's party did not end up standing.

PoliticsHome has approached The Telegraph for comment.

Arron Banks, the Brexit-backing businessman who was a major donor to the UK Independence Party under the leadership of Nigel Farage, commissioned a separate poll by Survation, published by The Sunday Times at the weekend. The poll showed that based on current voting intention Reform would come first in the parliamentary constituency of Clacton if Farage decided to return to frontline politics as the right-wing party's leader.

PoliticsHome understands that Banks wants to become more involved in Westminster politics heading into the 2024 general election having played a significant part in the Eurosceptic movement in recent years.

On Wednesday Sunak's legislation to declare Rwanda a safe place with the aim of enabling the UK government to sidestep legal challenges over deporting migrants to the East African country will be subject to a vote by MPs. The polling will likely add to the increasing pressure on Sunak from the right of his party to accept changes that would make it even harder for migrants to mount legal challenges. While its detractors supported the Bill at its second reading in December, they vowed to do whatever it took to toughen it further when it returned to the Commons. 

Over 50 Conservative MPs, including former prime minister Liz Truss and erstwhile home secretary Suella Braverman, are backing amendments which seek to harden the bill in regards to ignoring international law. This number would be enough to overturn the government's majority, as just 28 Conservative MPs would need to vote against Sunak to inflict a House of Commons defeat. 

The Prime Minister has repeatedly stressed that any changes to the bill must not damage its legality or prompt the Rwandan government to withdraw from its migration deal with the UK, suggesting that he will not be willing to accept the chances demanded by the Tory right.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Sunak's official spokesperson said ministers would only consider Tory MPs suggestions that have a "respectable" legal argument.

"We have carefully crafted this bill to achieve the objectives of getting flights off the ground and stopping the boats. This is the toughest piece of legislation put before parliament to tackle illegal migration and the Prime Minister believes it will provide that effective deterrent that we need," they said.

"Our position remains that if any of the proposed amendments have a respectable legal argument and will make the bill more effective then we remain open to considering them."

Sunak himself has sought to play down the significance of YouGov's latest polling. "There have been lots of polls over the last year. There'll be hundreds more polls. The only one that matters is the one when the general election comes," he said.

But the findings have nonetheless fuelled Tory concerns about their prospects at the next general election and are likely to be raised by disgruntled Conservative MPs when they are addressed by Isaac Levido, the Tory party's elections strategist, at a 1922 Committee meeting of Conservative backbenchers in Westminster on Monday evening.


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