The battle between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss to become Britain’s next prime minister switched to immigration over the weekend, as the two Tory leadership contenders vowed to outdo each other in tightening up control of the country’s borders.
Sunak, the former chancellor, hinted he would clamp down on the number of people fleeing war and persecution who would be allowed to enter the UK should he win, saying he wanted to introduce “a healthy dose of commonsense into the system”.
Truss, the UK foreign secretary, said she would seek to strike more deals with third countries to process asylum claims made in the UK, following the controversial partnership agreed with Rwanda.
Both candidates are vying for the support of around 160,000 Conservative members who will begin voting in early August to choose their next leader, who has head of the ruling party becomes Britain’s next prime minister.
Immigration frequently ranks near the top of the concerns of party members and Sunak, who is currently the underdog in the contest, needs quickly to make up ground on Truss.
The first television debate between the two candidates, hosted by the BBC, will take place on Monday, ballot papers are due to start arriving with party members from August 1.
Until now, a lot of the leadership debate has focused on the timing of tax cuts, but as the contest moves beyond Westminster to party members in the country, it has started to broaden out.
Sunak, whose Indian family emigrated to Britain from east Africa around 60 years ago, said the government had failed to make good on its promise to “take back control” of Britain’s borders after the 2016 Brexit vote.
“Our parliament will be given control of the number of refugees we accept,” Sunak told the Sunday Telegraph. He said the country’s asylum system was “chaotic and broken”.
Meanwhile, Truss endorsed the policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda as “the right thing to do”, telling the Mail on Sunday she would talk to other countries about doing similar deals.
Sunak and Truss have also both blamed France for failing to provide enough staff to carry out passport controls at Dover — the UK’s main Channel port — in recent days, with chaotic scenes marking the start of the school summer holiday season.
However Clement Beaune, France’s transport minister, said his country was “not responsible for Brexit”, which resulted in a harder border between Britain and the EU with more rigorous checks.
The Port of Dover said operations were back to normal on Sunday but 13km along the coast there were delays at the Eurotunnel terminal in Folkestone, causing road congestion in the area.
Sunak and Truss are both struggling to establish their credentials with a party membership that still appears to be lamenting the resignation of Boris Johnson earlier this month.
A Mail on Sunday/Deltapoll survey found that 33 per cent of members thought Johnson would be the best prime minister, compared with 26 per cent for Truss and 24 for Sunak.
Johnson will step down as prime minister after a new Tory leader is announced on September 5.
His “hasta la vista” farewell to the House of Commons last week, raised hopes among his supporters that he might make a comeback at some point in the future.