James Cleverly’s ’14 days of Hell’ in Tory civil war storm over small boats

Tory MP queries government policy on ‘illegal migration’

The normally jovial James Cleverly is not a happy man.

This can be explained quite simply or as one of his allies put it in the most exasperated terms: “He has had 14 days in the job, how is he supposed to have already done what could not be done in the previous 14 months?”

By which the sally means “stop the boats” and also possibly get the deportation flights to Rwanda in the air.

To unpack the genuine frustration within this statement we need to roll back a couple of weeks.

Just two weeks ago Cleverly woke up as Foreign Secretary, a job he had thrived in and thoroughly enjoyed, got a call from the Prime Minister to pop into Downing Street and ended the morning as the new Home Secretary.

In taking the job he replaced the darling of many on the right of the party Suella Braverman who was unceremoniously sacked by Rishi Sunak.

That sacking alone caused an eruption on the right of the party who saw it as “a declaration of war” and has led to intense speculation over whether Sunak can even survive until the next election.

READ MORE: Cleverly ally slaps down claim he ‘blocked’ Rwanda scheme as Foreign Secretary

When it happened old hands like former Boris Johnson ally Nadine Dorries claimed that the change of job had been an attempt to ruin Cleverly’s reputation and stop him becoming leader one day.

People laughed. But as Nigel Farage famously once said: “They’re not laughing now.”

In what one ally described as “14 days of Hell”, Mr Cleverly has discovered that he has not only inherited the most difficult policy brief in government at the most under fire department but has found himself plunged into the nexus of the Tory civil war.

It is not like things have been quite on other fronts as the “sh**gate” row proved.

He also had to deal with the increasingly problematic anti-Israel marches involving glorification of Hamas terrorism and open anti-Semitism which the Metropolitan Police appeared to be reluctant to take firm action against.

But it was the Supreme Court decision on blocking the Rwanda deportation flights which has riled most Tory MPs.

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From the first day MPs on the right took note that Cleverly is opposed to leaving the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

This is now a touchstone issue on “taking back control” of Britain’s borders with the Strasbourg based court active in blocking the Rwanda scheme.

But then question marks were raised abut whether Cleverly believed in the Rwanda scheme or deportation flights at all for that matter.

His interview over the weekend in the Times (a media outlet not known for supporting immigration control) alarmed many Tory MPs even further.

In it he repeated his opposition to leaving the ECHR, and more worryingly urged people not to be “fixated” on Rwanda.

Instead of calming the horses on a difficult subject, the interview led to 72 hours of non-stop calls to Cleverly and his aides from media and MPs demanding to know what was going on.

Then by Monday morning Cleverly was hit by a pincer movement of briefings.

Allies of Ms Braverman suggested that it was Cleverly who blocked alternative countries Rwanda like Bolivia as deportation destinations.

“Utter b******s!” was the response from one Cleverly ally.

It was pointed out that illegal immigration numbers to the UK are down one third now not least thanks to the returns agreements with other countries facilitied by Cleverly when he was running the Foreign Office.

It was also asked what Ms Braverman had done in 14 months.

“How can [Cleverly] be blamed for all this after 14 days?”

But then there were the “friends of Robert Jenrick”, the immigration minister who some (not least himself) ha expected to replace Ms Braverman as Home Secretary.

He was said to be considering resigning over a watering down of government policy.

One Tory rebel on the right said: “Rishi should have made Robert Home Secretary he gets it. After 14 months in the Home Office he has been radicalised on this issue and knows we have to get it done.”

The same MP said: “I am very worried about Cleverly. He seems to be a complete wet.

“We now have a situation where the Prime Minister is saying ‘whatever it takes’ but the Home Secretary is saying’I’ll do what I can’. Which is it? It can’t be both.”

A prominent MP on the right, who so far has been loyal to Sunak said Cleverly was becoming the problem.

The MP told Express.co.uk: “[Cleverly] hasn’t said a sensible thing yet. He’s not reading the room at all.”

It was noted that during Home Office questions James Morris, normally loyal to Sunak, got up and pointedly asked: “What is our policy?”

One MP noted: “I think he (Morris) reflected that the government does not seem to have one.”

But there is an answer coming back on this.

A source close to Cleverly said that his policy boils down to three words: “Stop the boats!”

The source added: “It’s pledge number 5 on the Prime Minister’s list. Everyone can see it.

“If we stop the boats but don’t deport anyone to Rwanda will that be a failure? I don’t think so.

“The point is that, yes we need to pursue that policy, but we also need to do a whole load of others things too.”

One improvement has already been clocked though.

Saturday’s latest pro-Palestinian march saw the Metropolitan Police take a much more robust approach and actually visibly arrest people on the day who were glorifying terrorism ratherhan post pictures later.

An ally of Mr Cleverly said that his conversation with Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley had paved the way for that.

The ally said: “[Sir] Mark deserves a lot of credit for gripping things. I think both James and he understood each other. A new relationship that works for both.”

But the marches are one thing, stopping the boats is another.

Tory MPs considering putting letters in to demand a vote of no confidence in Rishi Sunak are now citing the actions of his Home Secretary.

There is a warning to them thoug from friends of the Home Secretary: “He is trying to get this sorted because if we don’t the other side (Labour) will get voted in and then we know what they will do, just let more people in.

“They will do what they did in 2007 and give everyone seeking asylum an amnesty to bring the list down to zero. Is that what colleagues really want?”

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