Tories must stop 'drift' to Reform, says Robert Jenrick - as he says he would welcome Nigel Farage into party

The Conservatives must stop their voters from "drifting to Reform" in order to win the next election, Robert Jenrick has said.

Speaking to Sky News' political editor Beth Rigby, the former immigration minister pointed to lowering legal migration as the "most important" issue to win back those who now support Nigel Farage's party - as well as people who voted Tory in 2019 "who [now] don't feel that the party is being conservative enough".

Mr Jenrick also said he would have "no problem" with Mr Farage joining his party, or "working with" him, adding: "I want the Conservative Party to be one which is the natural home for anyone who shares my determination to tackle issues like illegal and legal migration."

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The interview came after Mr Jenrick unveiled his 30-point plan to curb legal migration, including a call to split the Home Office in two so a fresh department could have the "sole mission" of controlling immigration.

Official estimates published in November indicated the net migration figure - the difference between the number of people arriving and leaving Britain - reached a record 745,000 in 2022.

But in the 2019 Tory manifesto, the party promised to bring the "overall number down".

Mr Jenrick - the Tory MP for Newark - told Rigby that politicians had "betrayed the promise of Brexit by creating a legal migration system that, if anything, is more liberal than the one we had when we were in the European Union", adding: "We have to fix that now... to begin to rebuild trust with our voters and also do the right thing for the country".

Mr Jenrick resigned as immigration minister in December, citing "strong disagreements" with the government over the Rwanda policy.

At the time, he said he did not think the legislation would "end the merry-go-round of legal challenges" which had paralysed the scheme.

Speaking to Rigby, the ex-minister said last week's drubbing for the Tories in the local elections pointed towards "a very serious defeat for the government at the general election - unless we can change course and win back some of those Conservative voters who are currently not supporting us or are drifting to Reform".

But Mr Jenrick ruled out calling for a change in leadership, despite his criticism of Rishi Sunak's direction thus far.

Instead, he called for "a period of introspection" - albeit a short one as "time is running out" - so his party could "bring forward some policies that meet the concerns of the public", adding: "I think the most important one of those to win back Reform voters, and 2019 Conservative voters who don't feel that the party is being conservative enough, is legal migration."

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Despite opposition from more centrist Conservative MPs over toughening up migration rules further, Mr Jenrick insisted his proposals were not "right wing policies", but represented an "entirely mainstream view that is shared by the vast majority of the British public".

"They're actually not even issues that are unique to the Conservative Party," he added. "But I do not think that taking a robust line on immigration is in any sense a drift to the right of the political spectrum."

And he issued a warning to those who chose to vote Reform in the general election, saying: "Ultimately, the public will have to make a choice, and that is whether or not they want to have a Conservative government led by Rishi Sunak or a Labour government led by Keir Starmer, and inevitably a vote for Reform is a vote for Keir Starmer to be our prime minister.

"And so we have to ensure that as many reform votes as possible come back to the Conservative Party in the weeks ahead."