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Robert Jenrick profile: MP walks away from Sunak’s government over immigration

Minister of State for Immigration Robert Jenrick (Jordan Pettitt/PA)
Minister of State for Immigration Robert Jenrick (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Robert Jenrick has resigned as immigration minster in a blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s grip on the Conservative Party.

There had been speculation that Mr Jenrick’s response to the Government’s latest efforts to get its plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda up and running would act as a bellwether for others on the right of the Tory party.

Walking away from his role as immigration minister so soon after the Government announced its latest proposals, Mr Jenrick has created a difficult situation for a PM seeking to assure his party and potential voters that the plan is credible.

Mr Jenrick was after all given the job in the Home Office by Mr Sunak little more than a year ago, in October 2022.

Mr Jenrick told the Prime Minister on Wednesday evening that his new draft legislation aimed at stopping small boat crossings “does not go far enough” and is a “triumph of hope over experience”.

Speculation over his resignation had reached fever pitch when Mr Jenrick was not in the Commons to hear James Cleverly make the case for the proposals.

Mr Jenrick’s absence spoke almost as loudly as the Labour MPs who shouted heckles to Mr Cleverly over the whereabouts of his immigration minister while the Home Secretary made his statement.

Reports in recent weeks suggested Mr Jenrick wanted to go further in tackling both legal and illegal migration than Mr Cleverly was prepared to go, and he had used his platform as immigration minister to deliver tough rhetoric on the need to crack down on both.

Now released from the constraints of collective responsibility, Mr Jenrick’s criticisms of the Government’s plans have spilled out into the open.

Mr Jenrick has served in Government under four prime ministers in four different roles since first becoming a minister in 2018.

The 41-year-old father-of-three, who grew up in Shropshire, is a trained solicitor who worked in corporate law at leading international law firms in London and Moscow.

He then turned his attentions to business, working in senior commercial management at the world-famous global art firm Christie’s.

Wolverhampton-born, Mr Jenrick entered the Commons as MP for Newark in Nottinghamshire in a 2014 by-election.

Theresa May promoted him to a Treasury minister in January 2018.

Ms May’s demise saw him climb higher, with Boris Johnson promoting him to secretary of state for housing, communities and local government when the former premier took office in July 2019.

But his time around the cabinet table ended in controversy, when he was sacked after a string of high-profile and damaging accusations.

Budget 2018
Robert Jenrick (left) during his time in the Treasury (David Mirzoeff/PA)

His departure followed the unlawful approval of a Tory donor’s housing development and eyebrow-raising journeys during lockdown.

Mr Johnson stuck by Mr Jenrick despite anger over his approval of media mogul Richard Desmond’s 1,500-home Westferry Printworks development in east London.

The permission came the day before a new council community levy would have cost Mr Desmond’s company an extra £40 million.

Mr Jenrick later had to quash his own approval, conceding the decision was “unlawful” due to “apparent bias”.

There was also criticism over Mr Jenrick’s decision to travel 150 miles from his London property to his Herefordshire home, and then journeying for more than an hour to visit his parents in Shropshire while the country was in Covid lockdown.

The role also saw him take on another thorny issue where a misstep can draw the ire of the Tory backbenches – planning reform.

With controversies mounting, and his popularity fraying with Tory MPs who objected to what they feared would be too much housebuilding in the wrong place, a reshuffle saw Mr Jenrick shown the door.

The arrival of Liz Truss in Number 10 saw Mr Jenrick return to Government for a short stint in the Department of Health.

Then in October 2022, with Rishi Sunak taking the top job, Mr Jenrick was appointed immigration minister.

The role was never going to be an easy task, with many in the Tory party and beyond calling for the Government to reduce the number of people crossing the English Channel in small boats and while also reducing legal migration.

A commitment to “stop the boats” was one of Mr Sunak’s five pledges at the start of year, putting Mr Jenrick’s brief right at the top of the Government’s priorities.

But despite Mr Sunak’s stated commitment to do “everything it takes” to make the Rwanda scheme operational, Mr Jenrick’s resignation letter suggests he did not believe the Prime Minister was prepared to go far enough.

Mr Jenrick said he had “been pushing for the strongest possible piece of emergency legislation”, but wrote on social media that had could not continue in post “when I have such strong disagreements with the direction of the Government’s policy on immigration”.