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Sunak urged to ‘act now’ by Tory MPs as net migration hits record 745,000

The Prime Minister was urged to ‘act now’ by MPs on the right of the party.

Dominic McGrath
Thursday 23 November 2023 15:25 GMT
Rishi Sunak has come under pressure following the release of new migration statistics (Peter Powell/PA)
Rishi Sunak has come under pressure following the release of new migration statistics (Peter Powell/PA) (PA Wire)

Rishi Sunak is facing calls from Tory MPs to “act now” to bring down net migration, as new figures showed that it hit a new record of 745,000.

Revised estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) put net migration to the UK in the year to December 2022 higher than previously thought. However, the figure for the year to June 2023 is estimated to be lower, at 672,000.

In a strongly-worded statement, the right-wing New Conservative group of MPs demanded action from the Prime Minister and his Home Secretary James Cleverly.

The group, led by Miriam Cates, Danny Kruger and Sir John Hayes, warned: “The word ‘existential’ has been used a lot in recent days but this really is ‘do or die’ for our party.

“Each of us made a promise to the electorate. We don’t believe that such promises can be ignored.

“The Government must propose, today, a comprehensive package of measures to meet the manifesto promise by the time of the next election. We will assess any such package and report publicly on whether it will meet the promise made to the electorate.

“The Prime Minister, Chancellor, and new Home Secretary must show that they stand by the promises on which we were elected to Parliament. We must act now.”

The 2019 Conservative Party manifesto pledged to bring overall net migration numbers down after the introduction of post-Brexit border controls.

Former Cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke said: “This level of legal immigration is unsustainable both economically and socially.

“There is no public mandate for it, it is beyond our public services’ capacity to support and it undercuts UK productivity and wages by substituting cheaper foreign labour.”

He called for an “urgent change of approach”, with curbs on the list of shortage occupations allowed to bring in migrant workers and a requirement for higher earnings for those seeking a visa.

Former minister Neil O’Brien said: “In every election since 1992 we have promised to reduce migration. Today’s extraordinary numbers mean the PM must now take immediate and massive action to do just that.”

Tory MP Jonathan Gullis said the figures were “completely unacceptable” and will “rightly anger” the British people, as he called for drastic action to bring down legal migration.

Former Cabinet minister Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, appearing on BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme, said that the figures pointed to a serious political failure in controlling post-Brexit borders.

“I’m embarrassed that we haven’t achieved what we set out to achieve,” he said.

The ONS said it is too early to tell if this is the start of a new downward trend but that the most recent estimates indicate a slowing of immigration coupled with increasing emigration.

Mr Cleverly said the latest figure “is largely in line with our own immigration statistics” and insisted the Government “remains completely committed to reducing levels of legal migration”.

The previous estimate for the year to December 2022 had been 606,000, but the ONS has since revised this upwards in light of “unexpected patterns” in the behaviour of migrants.

The latest figures show that a total of 1.18 million people are estimated to have arrived in the UK in the year to June 2023 while 508,000 are likely to have left, leaving the net migration figure at 672,000.

Mr Cleverly said: “This figure is not showing a significant increase from last year’s figures and is largely in line with our own immigration statistics.

“The Government remains completely committed to reducing levels of legal migration while at the same time focusing relentlessly on our priority of stopping the boats.”

He said the UK needs to “reduce our overall numbers by eliminating the abuse and exploitation of our visa system by both companies and individuals”.

Downing Street said that net migration remains “far too high” and indicated that further measures could be introduced to bring down the figures.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman also promise to leave “no stone unturned” in tackling abuse of the visa system.

Most people arriving to the UK in the year ending June 2023 were non-EU nationals (968,000), followed by EU (129,000) and British (84,000), the ONS said.

Study remained the biggest contributor to non-EU immigration in that period, accounting for 39%, largely unchanged compared with the previous period.

The next biggest contributor to non-EU immigration was migrants coming for work – having risen to 33%, from 23% in the year ending June 2022, and largely attributed to people on health and care visas.

Arrivals of people via humanitarian routes have fallen from 19% to 9% over the same period, the ONS said, with most of these made up of Ukrainians and British Nationals (Overseas) arrivals from Hong Kong.

Labour said that the figures were a sign of the Government’s “failure” on immigration.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “These figures are driven by a 54% increase in work visas and a 156% increase in health and social care visas which prove the Conservatives’ abysmal record on skills, training and workforce planning, as they have run our economy into the ground.

“They are still failing to make changes Labour has called for to end the 20% wage discount in the immigration system and to link it to training requirements.

“The Tories have broken the asylum system with the number of asylum seekers in hotels now at a record high of 56,000 – over 10,000 more than when Rishi Sunak promised to end hotel use – and costing almost £3 billion a year. Once again, the British taxpayer is footing the bill for the Conservatives’ chaos.”

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