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Conservative Party in Turmoil: Elphicke’s Defection and Jenrick’s Immigration Push Signal Deepening Rifts

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Natalie Elphicke's switch to Labour and Robert Jenrick's stance on immigration indicate a deepening divide within the Conservative Party, a conflict that is expected to persist leading up to the election.

Political commentator @BethRigby

Wednesday, May 8, 2024, 6:

Following a series of poor outcomes in the local elections, Rishi Sunak continues to hold his position at Downing Street, although his party is shifting forward.

This past weekend, ex-Home Secretary Suella Braverman took the opportunity to address her party, launching a pointed critique directed at the Prime Minister.

On Wednesday, Robert Jenrick completed his task.

The way the previous immigration minister approached the issue set him apart from his competitor in the leadership race.

Mr. Jenrick's involvement was presented in a detailed 120-page document on migration policy titled "Stopping the Crossings," which outlined various policy proposals for the prime minister to act upon immediately.

Central to his claim is the point that the majority of the nation is worried about the high rates of immigration, and it's imperative for the Conservative Party to pledge again to reduce immigration to the "tens of thousands" and honor the Brexit commitment to manage borders and decrease immigration levels.

Mr. Jenrick described the local elections as "appalling" and suggested that unless Mr. Sunak quickly takes control of immigration, it could foreshadow a defeat in the upcoming general election.

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"The local election outcomes were dreadful. There's no point in sugarcoating it," he said to me.

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"Indications suggest a significant loss for the government in the upcoming general election unless there is a strategic shift to regain the support of Conservative voters who are presently not in favor or are leaning towards Reform, which showed strong performance in the recent local elections."

"It's essential that we engage in a brief period of reflection, as we're quickly running out of time."

"Next, we must develop policies that address the public's concerns."

"In my view, the key element to regain the support of both Reform voters and 2019 Conservative voters who believe the party has strayed from its conservative principles is to address the issue of legal migration."

"That's the reason I believe the prime minister and the administration might adopt and apply the suggestions we've provided in the upcoming weeks."

His action was perfectly timed to the needs of the moment.

In under three hours, Natalie Elphicke, the Member of Parliament for Dover—a constituency significantly affected by unauthorized boat crossings—switched her allegiance to the Labour Party.

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Her statement: "Concerning everything from border control to biosecurity measures, Rishi Sunak’s administration is not succeeding in safeguarding our borders. There are fatalities occurring in the English Channel as the number of small boats arriving is reaching new highs once again. It’s evident that they have not managed to secure our borders and they lack reliability."

Numerous Conservatives were perplexed to see Ms. Elphicke, traditionally a right-leaning member of the party and a recent vocal critic of Sir Keir Starmer's approach to immigration, switch allegiances.

This highlights the fragmentation of a party seemingly adrift – where, on a single day and regarding the same issue, one Conservative warns of the dangers posed by Reform in terms of migration policy, while another switches allegiance to Labour.

At the core is a struggle for the identity of the party, which will conclude following the general election, yet will persist right up until the day of voting.

Learn More: Who is Natalie Elphicke? Will the UK benefit despite China's MoD breach?

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On Saturday night, following his loss of the West Midlands mayoral position, Andy Street confided that his approach to leading as a "moderate, inclusive, tolerant Conservative Party had consistently delivered results. He urged his fellow party members to avoid shifting too far to the right in upcoming leadership battles, pointing out that his style of Conservatism nearly succeeded in retaining the West Midlands, even as the broader national sentiment moved away from the Tories.

Yet, it appears that debate has already been conceded

Mr. Jenrick, who maintains that regulating legal migration is a "widely accepted stance held by most of the public," raises a valid argument: it was the One Nation Conservative leaders David Cameron and Theresa May who advocated for significantly tighter restrictions on migration figures.

In his interview, the focus was less on maintaining a moderate stance and more on countering challenges from the right.

Stay informed with the most recent updates from the UK and international news by tuning into Sky News.

He articulately presents his views on migration, emphasizing that the primary challenge for the Conservatives comes from the Reform Party. He also openly states he would have "no problem" welcoming Nigel Farage, a key figure in this competing group, back into the Conservative Party.

For a lot of his peers, such a notion might be repulsive, but Mr. Jenrick understands the key battlegrounds of the upcoming Conservative leadership race, and he knows that immigration will play a vital role in securing the support of party members.

Mr. Jenrick expresses his confidence that Mr. Sunak might adopt several of these suggestions, potentially passing a limit on legal immigration and reducing the figures in the near future.

This essentially serves as an argument for the post-Sunak era while the contest for leadership continues within a party that seems to have conceded loss even before the first votes of the general election are tallied.

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