The agreement allegedly reached between Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman over future immigration policy is unusual. Many party leaders have promised to follow a particular course of action when seeking to appoint a minister, but have always reserved the right to take a different approach if they thought fit. Indeed, there is a constitutional issue here: policy is supposed to be made by the Cabinet. A secret pact would show how far we have drifted from what was once considered the proper way of doing things.
But the supposed agreement came about because of the equally unusual circumstances. The Conservative Party had decided to remove Liz Truss after fewer than 50 days in office and another contest beckoned. Mr Sunak, defeated by Ms Truss just weeks earlier, needed allies on the Right of the party and Mrs Braverman was foremost among them. She transferred her loyalty to Mr Sunak but did so, she says, on a promise to be allowed as home secretary to pursue a much tougher immigration programme.
The document listed four proposals to reduce overall numbers. These were to close down the graduate visa route, restrict the number of dependents allowed to accompany immigrants, prioritise particular universities and courses, and increase the salary requirements for immigrant visas from £25,000 to £40,000.
Mrs Braverman, who was sacked a few weeks ago, now feels vindicated by the latest immigration figures showing the numbers arriving legally at unprecedented levels. Her supporters say Mr Sunak agreed to the plan in person and before witnesses but has not implemented it.
The country is increasingly cynical about politicians who say one thing but do another and this episode risks undermining Mr Sunak’s efforts to present himself as someone who is different from his predecessors. Constant pledges to reduce immigration have resulted in by far the largest number in our history, pushing up the population faster than ever and placing a huge burden on creaking public services.
Mr Sunak has sought to distance himself from Mrs Braverman’s claim of a binding promise, turning this into the latest skirmish of a party at war with itself. But the voters want to know less about a deal to seal the leadership and more about why the Government has reneged on a solemn pledge made in the last manifesto on which it was elected, albeit under another leader.