Right-wing Tory MPs have suggested Suella Braverman was sacked as home secretary to clear the way for looser immigration rules, piling fresh pressure on Liz Truss.
The prime minister insisted Ms Braverman was removed for breaching the ministerial code over the use of a personal email – but some supporters of the arch-Brexiteer believe that was a ruse.
In the Commons, their fears that Ms Truss is preparing to rip up pledges to stay tough on immigration were laid bare, ahead of an expected announcement within days.
Edward Leigh, demanded to know that Ms Braverman’s departure was “entirely due to a technical breach of the rules” and not because of a “policy disagreement”.
“Many of us had great confidence in the former home secretary’s determination to ensure that we meet our manifesto commitments and that we should not replace mass migration from Europe with mass migration from the rest of the world,” he protested.
Lee Anderson said he was “not convinced” by the official explanation and demanded that the “excellent” Rwanda deportation scheme is kept – amid suggestions the new home secretary, Grant Shapps, might dich it.
And Scott Benton warned it would be “a huge mistake if this government was to soften its tough line in illegal immigration”.
He called the loss of Ms Braverman “a tremendous loss to those of us who hoped that one day, just one day, this government might finally get a grip of the small boats crisis”.
In response, the Cabinet Office minister Brendan Clarke-Smith refused to say whether Mr Shapps will shift immigration policy – saying: “It’s not for me to discuss policy today.”
No 10 and Jeremy Hunt, the new chancellor, see lifting restrictions on immigration as crucial to convincing the Office for Budget Responsibility that they can get a grip on soaring borrowing and debt.
The announcement is tipped to dump the 2019 general election manifesto commitment to reduce net migration to a policy that would maintain the current levels – of about 240,000 a year.
This could lead to the OBR, the spending watchdog, changing its forecast of immigration’s contribution to future economic growth and tax receipts by up to and extra £15bn.
In the Commons, Mr Clarke-Smith fuelled the belief that a clash over immigration sealed Ms Braverman’s fate by telling MPs she had shared a document “subject to live discussion” by a Cabinet committee.
When the home secretary was sacked, on Wednesday, it was stated that the information was a draft ministerial statement and had, therefore, been agreed.
Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow home secretary, tore into the “disgrace” of a government collapsing before the public’s eyes.
“This government is indeed a total coalition of chaos,” she alleged, adding: “Why should the country have to put up with for a single extra day?”