Tory backbenchers urge Sunak to do more on immigration
Their demands include closure of temporary visa schemes for care workers
Prime minister Rishi Sunak (Photo by FRANK AUGSTEIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
A group of Conservative MPs called on prime minister Rishi Sunak on Monday (3) to do more to cut immigration, saying he risked further eroding the trust of voters who lent the party their vote in 2019 if he failed to take action.
The group of MPs, many elected for the first time in 2019 in traditionally opposition Labour-supporting regions in northern and central England, is just one faction of the party putting pressure Sunak to act more decisively to try to lift the Conservatives’ flagging poll ratings.
When Sunak came to power last year, he made five pledges to turn around the electoral fortunes of his governing party, including stopping “the small boats” or tackling illegal migration to bring down the numbers.
But on an earlier Conservative promise made at the 2019 election to cut net migration, Sunak committed only to bringing down levels of legal migration without giving any targets.
In a report, the so-called New Conservatives group of over 25 MPs out of the more than 300 in parliament issued a 12-point plan to cut immigration, including closing temporary visa schemes for care workers, limiting students from staying in Britain after graduating and capping the number of refugees.
“Without swift action to get migration under control, the Conservative Party will further erode the trust of hundreds of thousands of voters who lent the party their vote in 2019,” said the report, written by MP Tom Hunt.
“The Conservatives need to achieve (or at least be on course to achieve) a reduction of around 400,000 in LTIM (long-term international migration) if they are to save face by the time of the next general election.”
A spokesperson for the Home Office said the government remained committed to reducing overall net migration, pointing out its measures to stop the boats and remove the right for most international students to bring family members.
“We will continue to strike the right balance between supporting the UK economy through skilled worker visas and upholding our commitment to reduce migration over time,” the spokesperson said.
Under Boris Johnson, the Conservatives won a large majority in 2019, winning over thousands of traditionally Labour-supporting voters with a promise to get Brexit done and to reduce the numbers of migrants arriving in Britain.
More than 11,000 people have already crossed the Channel from northern France this year, while the backlog of asylum claims being processed has reached record levels.
Several MPs who won those seats fear they will lose their jobs after a national election expected next year, with opinion polls handing Labour around a 20 per cent lead over their party.
Sunak faces a raft of struggles to keep his agenda on course, with his five pledges – including bringing down waiting times in the NHS and halving inflation which is stubbornly high at 8.7 per cent – looking to difficult to achieve.
However, last month the deputy head of the International Monetary Fund told the BBC immigration can help reduce Britain’s high inflation rate.
“With inflation as high as it is, having workers who can fill the shortages in some of the sectors that we’re seeing right now will help with bringing inflation down,” IMF deputy managing director Gita Gopinath said in an interview in early June.
Net migration in the UK hit a record 606,000 in 2022, up from 488,000 in 2021.
Analysts said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine played a part in the increase. China’s squeeze on civil rights in Hong Kong, which led to the UK relaxing entry rules for holders of British overseas passports, also had an impact.