Tory MPs urge Sunak to cut immigration ahead of next election

Rishi Sunak is facing calls from within his own party to go further to cut immigration

Dominic McGrath
Monday 03 July 2023 00:07 BST
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing pressure to cut immigration numbers (Dan Kitwood/PA)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing pressure to cut immigration numbers (Dan Kitwood/PA) (PA Wire)

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing calls from within his own party to further cut immigration, as a group of Tory MPs offered a series of proposals to drastically curb the “destabilising” impact of “mass migration”.

The MPs call on ministers to close temporary visa schemes for care workers in a bid to reduce migration figures by more than 80,000, while also calling for a cap of 20,000 on the number of refugees for resettlement.

The report is backed by a group of right-wing Tory MPs from the 2017 and 2019 intake, including Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson and backbencher Miriam Cates, and written by Ipswich MP Tom Hunt.

The 25-strong group, named the New Conservatives, say the proposed measures would reduce net migration by 400,000 and in doing so meet the 2019 manifesto pledge that “there will be fewer lower-skilled migrants and overall numbers will come down”.

Net migration was 606,000 last year, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics.

Visa eligibility for both care workers and senior care workers were introduced as 'temporary' measures to address post-pandemic labour shortages

New Conservatives' report

In the report, MPs tell the Prime Minister that a promise to reduce immigration formed a key plank of Boris Johnson’s 2019 victory, which saw the Tories make sweeping gains in former Labour heartlands or so-called “red wall” seats.

The group says the current post-Brexit system has been “too lenient” and is not working, saying that “mass migration is having destabilising economic and cultural consequences”.

On the issue of visas for care workers, the report says: “Visa eligibility for both care workers and senior care workers were introduced as ‘temporary’ measures to address post-pandemic labour shortages.

“They were added to the Shortage Occupation List ‘in response to pandemic pressures’.

“Neither measure has yet been brought to a close, despite the abatement of the pandemic and its associated consequences.”

The group calls it “encouraging” that the Illegal Migration Bill, currently in the Lords, contains plans for an annual cap on refugees who come to the UK through safe and legal routes.

The report suggests that a “cap of 20,000 would offer a number that, excluding Hong Kongers and Ukrainians, exceeds the total number of people granted asylum or resettled in the UK in any given year since 2002.

“This cap could then be lifted in order to respond to an unforeseen emergency, such as a natural disaster or a war.”

Between 2014 and 2022, about 54,000 people were resettled or relocated to the UK under refugee schemes.

The MPs also call for the Government to “reserve university study visas for the brightest international students by excluding the poorest performing universities from eligibility criteria”.

They write: “In recent years…there have been increased applications for study visas fromstudents who wish to attend non-Russell group universities

“A study visa that is blind to the rigour of university courses is also blind to the earning potential, or even employability, of graduates who can then go on to apply for Graduate work visas.”

In making the call, the report argues that immigration policy “should not be used to prop up the finances of underperforming universities”.

The report will be launched on Monday by Mr Anderson and other Tory MPs.

It is the latest sign of backbench pressure on the prime minister to curb immigration ahead of the next general election, expected before January 2025.

The Government earlier this year announced plans to prevent some overseas students bringing dependants to the UK.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has been outspoken about her desire to bring immigration numbers down, but other members of Mr Sunak’s Cabinet are believed to be more relaxed about the issue.

Mr Hunt played down any suggestion that the report represented a challenge to the Prime Minister, telling BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: “This is a constructive document. We’ve finally got back control of our immigration system.

“We’ve ended EU free movement. I think it’s healthy to have a level of debate within the parliamentary party about the future of our immigration policy and we’re fully supportive of the Prime Minister.”

He also rejected suggestions that some of the proposals, particularly related to the care sector, could undermine already short-staffed areas.

“We’ve got to move away from this addiction to cheap labour from abroad. We’ve got to invest in our own workforce,” he said.

Party colleague Tim Loughton gave the document a more mixed reception, telling the same programme he understood the frustrations and that “in the longer term, the principle is right”.

But he warned: “We have got a shortage of people in this country, particularly in the care industry, particularly in hospitality.

“It’s not as simple as just putting the salary thresholds up as well. There’s quite a lot of skilled but lower paid people that we need coming into this country.”

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