Robert Jenrick appeared to breach collective cabinet responsibility in the Commons by expressing frustration that his efforts to cut net migration had been stymied for a year.
The Immigration Minister also said on Tuesday the public are “sick of talk” on cutting immigration and called for a “serious package of fundamental reforms”, saying he would have done this “before last Christmas if I could have done”.
He warned warned Cabinet colleagues tussling over fresh measures “the time for tinkering is over”.
The minister, who answers directly to No 10, appeared to be expressing frustration that his calls to bring down net migration to the UK, which hit a record 745,000 in figures released last week, was not properly listened to in Whitehall until now.
The comments called into question Cabinet collective responsibility which dictates that Cabinet members keep to the agreed government line in public, and do not challenge it.
Mr Jenrick also agreed with a series of right-leaning Conservative MPs who said they were “relying” on him to ensure Rishi Sunak adopts a tough package to crack down on net migration.
The minister’s status as a close ally of Mr Sunak is also being questioned in Westminster, with his comments appearing to align him with recently-sacked former home secretary Suella Braverman, who has accused the Prime Minister of ignoring demands for tougher measures to bring down net migration over the last year.
But a source close to Mr Jenrick said they “reject” suggestions he was stretching collective responsibility, saying the minister’s comments were in line with Mr Sunak and Home Secretary James Cleverly’s admission that net migration was “far too high”.
A Government source also tried to play down divisions, saying they “don’t recognise” suggestions Mr Jenrick had broken collective responsibility and noting that the minister “has been praised multiple times in Cabinet recently for his work on this”.
His comments come amid cross-Whitehall negotiations on an upcoming package of measures, with departments including the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), the Treasury and Foreign Office understood to be wary of some of the toughest policy proposals to cut legal migration.
Amid the private talks, Mr Jenrick said there were “strong arguments” for a cap on migration numbers either overall or on specific visa routes and confirmed ministers were “carefully considering” action to cut the number of dependents brought by foreign workers.
“My plan would have been brought to the House before last Christmas if I could have done,” he added in the Commons.
Mr Jenrick spoke as he was praised by Tory right-wingers, including Ms Braverman’s closest ally Sir John Hayes, who have been criticising Mr Sunak for allowing the net migration figures to rise to record levels.
Jonathan Gullis said he was “deeply concerned” by the net migration figures and told Mr Jenrick he has his “full support [in pushing for tougher measures], although I’m sure that won’t help him with those in No 10”.
Mr Jenrick replied that he supported Mr Gullis “in his lobbying and campaigning for the Government to take this issue seriously”.
Sir Edward Leigh meanwhile said the minister was “on the right side” and that he has “just got to persuade the PM now”, to which Mr Jenrick said he was “absolutely right and I agree with everything he said”.
Sir John told Mr Jenrick “we are relying on [you] to sort this out”, to which the minister said Ms Braverman’s ally and him “are at one on this issue”.
It came amid a separate row over the Government’s emergency laws to save the Rwanda deportation deal.
Tory MPs voiced scepticism about briefings suggesting Government lawyers had warned ministers that going for the so-called “full fat” option of using the laws to override the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – demanded by right-wingers– could lead to legal challenges.
One said it looked like the Government was “making excuses” while another said they were “highly suspicious” of the advice.
“This is the problem when trust breaks down,” the second MP added.
Asked whether Mr Sunak had blocked Mr Jenrick’s proposed policies to bring down net migration, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told i: “I don’t know specifically [what] he is referring to, it’s not unusual for policy to be discussed in the normal way between departments.
“I’m sure this was no different.
“But you know, we have in recent months, since last September, introduced the toughest ever package to cut down on abuse of the system and we said we are considering what more we can do.”