Tory Cabinet split over immigration numbers explained
Prime Minister tackles questions on latest immigration figures
Viewers of Rishi Sunak’s This Morning interview won’t have failed to notice the Prime Minister’s repeated attempts to move the conversation away from today’s dire immigration figures and talk about the small boats crisis instead.
Of the Prime Minister’s five pledges, he dedicated one to stopping the small boats, though failed to mention the wider concerns about, and opposition to, the overall numbers of migrants entering the country – despite the promise to take back control during the Brexit referendum.
On ITV, Mr Sunak refused to commit to a solid target to which he will reduce net migration, merely saying he wants to reduce it.
One reason for this is that while the Cabinet is united in its desire to stop the 45,000 crossings over the Channel, it is much more divided over net migration figures.
Today’s legal arrival figures are 26 times higher than those coming across the channel, and despite this a number of senior Cabinet ministers appear to have little truck with the total numbers.
The Express takes a look at the divisions in Cabinet over migration, and explains which members of the Government back a proper curb on the number of legal migrants, and which do not.
Pro-limits on immigration
The main – and often sole – figure in government truly committed to cutting net migration.
Suella Braverman has consistently said immigration is too high, and in October last year did was Rishi Sunak failed to this morning and set a numerical target for net immigration.
She told the Tory Party conference that her “ultimate aspiration” is to reduce net migration from the then-current level of 239,000 a year down to the tens of thousands.
Since taking over the Home Office, Mrs Braverman has already led a small boats strategy to deal with the crossings, hired barges and taken over RAF bases to house illegal migrants.
Earlier this week, she announced new limits on overseas students bringing dependent family members to the UK, which is said will reduce net immigration by the largest amount from any single available policy change.
Robert Jenrick, the Minister of State for Immigration one rung below Mrs Braverman at the Home Office, was initially said to have been appointed to the role in order to temper his boss’s hardline views on immigration.
Since joining the Home Office, however, Mr Jenrick has proved almost – if not just – as hard-line as the Home Secretary.
Earlier this month, it was reported the pair had teamed up during a Cabinet meeting to voice concerns about the high levels of legal migration.
A source told The Sunday Times: “They were aligned in their concerns at the levels being seen, which appear to show that the present levels are more sustained than just being boosted by those coming into the country from Ukraine and Hong Kong, with very high levels of work, student, and student-dependant visas being issued.”
In April he delivered a controversial speech at the Police Exchange think tank, entitled: “Put simply, excessive, uncontrolled migration threatens to cannibalise the compassion of the British public.” He argued that the “Values and lifestyles” of small boat refugees threaten social cohesion.
At last year’s Tory conference Kemi Badenoch said the UK has “become a lower productivity society and when we try and raise productivity, we try and do so through superficial means”, clarifying that one of the superficial means has been mass immigration.
“We also need to make sure that the immigration that comes into our country is the right sort of immigration. Simply taking in numbers to boost GDP while not undertaking reform is not the right way to do that.
“We need to look again at resolving our productivity issues and that means using capital better and not just getting cheaper and cheaper labour. It’s not good for the people that come and it’s also not good for the people who are here already.”
A dedicated and ideological Brexiteer, Mr Gove has often championed both controls on immigration, and David Cameron’s ‘tens of thousands’ target during the 2016 referendum.
During the referendum, Mr Gove said Brexit would allow the UK to get net migration under 100,000, by cutting both EU and non-EU migration. He also argued that immigration if we were to remain in the EU could make the NHS ‘financially unstable by 2030’.
Last week he defended Suella Braverman’s argument that immigration is too high, and argued it’s putting too much pressure on housing and public services.
He said the UK cannot “just ignore” the impact of new arrivals, and the Government’s planned crackdown is “absolutely right”.
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For all his failings at the moment on immigration, it’s possible to overlook the fact that Rishi Sunak is one of the most hard-line PMs on immigration and culture issues. While he may not promote it rhetorically, Mr Sunak is arguably much more in favour of controlled immigration than either Boris Johnson or Liz Truss – and post-Brexit has the tools to do something about it unlike David Cameron and Theresa May.
While he undoubtedly wants to stop illegal crossings of the Channel, as a former Treasury man, he will always struggle to avoid reaching for the lever of immigration in order to make the country’s GDP appear artificially better.
His current aim is to bring immigration down below what he “inherited” last year, which was about 500,000. As a target it may be achievable before the General Election, however it’s at least five times higher than David Cameron promised.
He also has an incentive to sit back and not take a side while his position within the party is so weak.
Chancellors tend to love high immigration, because it improves economic growth figures and boosts GDP for free. Unfortunately it does little to improve GDP per capita.
Jeremy Hunt has said Britain must be “pragmatic” about the need for large amounts of foreign migrant workers, and suggested expanding the current shortage occupation list to allow businesses to “find the labour they need”.
He was also, reportedly, partly behind the watering down of plans to cut immigration by cracking down on the number of foreign students, arguing it would harm the economy.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has been at the forefront of undermining efforts to reduce immigration figures.
Last week the Telegraph revealed Gillian Keegan to be pushing for more foreign students despite warnings that net migration figures could hit one million. Ms Keegan said she’s “hugely proud” of 600,000 foreign students coming to the UK every year – a target that was hit eight years ahead of schedule.
Department for Education sources made it clear that the 600,000 foreign student target is something they now aim to hit every single year because of claimed benefits both for the economy and diplomatic relations.
Some Tories have argued students should be removed from the net migration figures, however others point out they still pose a strain on housing and public services – plus they are then included in net emigration figures when they finish their courses and leave the country.
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack brazenly told ITV he backs high immigration.
Last week he celebrated last year’s record breaking immigration statistics and excitedly spoke about predictions that this year’s were going to be even higher. He said: “We more have more people economically inactive since Covid and we have to fill those jobs”.
“I’m entirely supportive of that, they’re coming, they’re taking jobs, they’re paying taxes, they’re contributing to the Treasury and that contributes to paying for public services. That’s fine.”
He revealed that Rishi Sunak has committed to increasing the number of spaces on the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme beyond the current 45,000 if needs be.
He didn’t deny a “fundamental disagreement with the Home Secretary” on the matter.
In her brief time as Health Secretary under Liz Truss, Therese Coffey said she didn’t mind foreign nurses plugging the NHS staff shortage.
On Sunday she defended the high number of students coming into the UK saying it is “critical” they have access to UK universities.
“The biggest increase so far has been the number of people coming to study here.
“Our universities are very keen to have people coming from around the world. We also see it as a great way to potentially attract talent.
“If it is easier to go and study in the USA or elsewhere, at the same time while we have I think it is four of the top 10 universities in the world by international rankings, it is critical that we try and make sure people have access to that excellence.”
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