Voters do not trust Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman to deal with the problem of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats and have little faith that their flagship Rwanda policy will work, according to a new poll for The Independent.
Campaigners urged the prime minister to “press the reset button” on his plans to deport asylum-seekers to the African country for processing, after the research by Savanta ComRes found that significantly more voters believe the crisis can be resolved by the provision of safe and legal routes to the UK.
And polling guru Sir John Curtice said the survey showed the extent of the electoral problem facing the Conservatives, as Keir Starmer’s Labour was found to be more trusted on what has traditionally been a strong suit for the Tories.
Prof Curtice said the findings – which saw 37 per cent say they trust Labour to handle the problem compared to just 23 per cent for the Tory government – raised questions over the Conservatives’ decision to make deportations a centrepiece of their pitch to voters.
Just 20 per cent said they trusted Ms Braverman to deliver a satisfactory solution, against 61 per cent who did not. And confidence in Mr Sunak to deal with the issue stood at just 29 per cent – with 57 per cent saying they did not believe he could – compared to 34 per cent for Starmer.
Offered a list of proposed solutions to the small boats problem, voters deemed deportation flights to Rwanda and other countries to be the least likely to work, with just 37 per cent saying they would be effective, against 54 per cent who said they would not.
The scheme was launched by former home secretary Priti Patel, who handed over £120m to the African country despite not a single asylum-seeker being sent there. Ms Braverman has said it is her “dream” to see planeloads of migrants heading for Rwanda and has reportedly put out feelers to countries including Belize, Paraguay and Peru over similar agreements.
“The Tories’ problem is that people who voted for them in 2019 don’t trust them to be able to resolve the question of the people coming across in boats,” Prof Curtice told The Independent. “Just a third of those voters – 32 per cent – think they can deal with the issue, against 54 per cent who don’t.
“To focus on an issue where you struggle to deliver is not necessarily very good politics. You want to focus on things where you can deliver.”
Mr Sunak promised MPs in the House of Commons on Wednesday that he would “get to grips” with the issue, which has seen a record 40,000 migrants attempt the perilous crossing to the UK from France by dinghy this year.
But charities supporting refugees said that he should reconsider his refusal to offer legal routes to enter the UK, as the poll showed that many voters believe it would be an effective way to reduce the perilous dinghy crossings and cut the risk of a repeat of last November’s Channel tragedy in which 27 people drowned.
At present, asylum-seekers can enter the UK legally only from Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan, even though 49 per cent of those arriving by small boat since 2018 have been granted asylum or leave to remain.
The Savanta poll found that voters preferred options for preventing crossings involved physically blocking sailings, either by the Royal Navy turning them back at sea – which 52 per cent thought would be effective – enhanced patrols on French beaches (50 per cent) or police action against people-smuggling gangs (49 per cent).
Suella Braverman: Senior MPs put further pressure on home secretary to fix migrant crisis
But 46 per cent said that the problem could be effectively dealt with by providing safe and legal routes for individuals to come to the UK to have their asylum claims processed, without needing to risk their lives at sea. Some 43 per cent said this option would not be effective.
Mark Davies of the Refugee Council said: “These findings show that most people understand that inhumane plans to treat vulnerable people in search of safety like human cargo by sending them to Rwanda will simply not work as a deterrent.
“It is also clear that high numbers of people support providing people with safe routes, so that they can come to the UK to claim asylum here, without having to risk their lives on terrifying, life-threatening journeys first.
“The chaos we’ve seen in recent weeks makes very clear the urgent need for a fair, orderly and humane asylum process. We urge the new PM to start listening to the public, press the reset button and focus on showing the compassion he has promised by creating a fair and humane asylum system.”
Mary Atkinson of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said: “This polling shows that much of the public can see right through this government’s dangerous lies and bluster on asylum policy.
“People want safe routes for people seeking sanctuary, not the cruel and senseless Rwanda scheme. At every opportunity, people choose compassion and common sense over scapegoating and cruelty – this government needs to listen up.”
Prof Curtice said the poll made clear that voters from across the political spectrum regard the small boats situation as a serious issue, with 64 per cent saying government should treat it as a high priority and just 11 per cent believing it should be low on the official agenda.
But he said “The Tories’ essential problem is that, while all groups of voters think it’s an issue, Conservative voters are particularly of a view that it is an important issue and they are not at all convinced that the government has come up with a solution.
“There is clearly a scepticism about Rwanda across the board, even amongst Tory voters who might be expected to back the idea.
“Part of the Conservative problem is that in the wake of the Liz Truss experience the electorate in general are asking ‘Can these guys run anything?’
“The Conservatives are behind on most issues. There has been a trashing of the Conservative reputation across the board, and that stretches even to topics like immigration where they have previously been dominant.”
The poll emerged as a sixth local authority launched legal action to prevent migrants being housed in hotels in their area.
North Northamptonshire council said it had been given just days’ notice of plans to send asylum-seekers to Kettering, as the Home Office struggled to reduce overcrowding at the Manston processing centre in Kent.
Numbers at 1,600-capacity Manston were reduced to 1,147 by Wednesday morning, from a peak of 4,000 last week which forced detainees to sleep in tents and on mats on the floor.
Labour spokesperson Vernon Coaker denounced a “catastrophic failure of Government policy” and called on ministers to “get a grip” on a system which has seen asylum applications rise by 305 per cent in five years while processing delays have lengthened.
“If the government can’t sort the administration out, it’s not going to sort any problem out,” he said. “Instead of firefighting, the government needs to get a grip.”