Leader comment: Is immigration really the biggest problem facing the UK?

The two candidates in the race to be prime minister will face off in a TV debate this evening – and it is already shaping up to be must-watch viewing.

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are battling for the Tory leadership
Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are battling for the Tory leadership

There is no love lost between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, as we have already seen, and Conservative HQ will be watching anxiously as laundry is aired in public in prime time.

We already know the big division is over tax – Truss’ plan for huge tax cuts vs Sunak’s vow to get inflation under control first.

As the country faces a cost of living crisis, a focus on the economy is entirely predictable.

Over the weekend, however, we saw another issue come to the fore. An issue which both candidates will believe plays to the Conservative membership who will ultimately decide their fate – immigration.

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Both Truss and Sunak pledged fresh measures to tighten British borders. Each has recommitted to the shameful Rwanda asylum scheme, over which Britain currently stands to lose the £120 million it has paid to Rwanda if the plan to deport migrants is ruled unlawful by the courts.

According to reports yesterday, Truss would increase Border Force staff levels from 9,000 to 10,800 and would also bring forward a strengthened UK Bill of Rights to provide a “sound legal basis” to tackle illegal migration.

Sunak offers voters a ten-point plan that will include a commitment to a narrower definition of who qualifies for asylum compared to that offered by the European Convention on Human Rights, with enhanced powers to detain, tag and monitor illegal migrants.

He also also promises to give Parliament control over who comes to the UK by creating an annual cap on the number of refugees accepted each year, albeit one that can be changed in the case of sudden emergencies.

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All of this may well be red meat to a certain section of the Tory party membership, but to the general public – the voters at the next election?

Are we really talking about a cap on migrants at the time of Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War? The new prime minister will enter Downing Street just weeks before another brutal energy bill hike.

The problems are much closer to home.