Migration UK: Suella Braverman and Tory right pile pressure on Rishi Sunak as net migration hits record 745,000

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing a battle within his own Tory party over immigration figures

Rishi Sunak is facing a growing backlash within his own party after figures revealed net migration had hit a record 745,000.

Having promised repeatedly to bring the numbers coming into Britain down, the Prime Minister must now deal with furious MPs on the right of the Conservative party, including his former home secretary Suella Braverman.

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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, sparking a new row within the Tory party.

Rishi Sunak is under fire over new migration figures.Rishi Sunak is under fire over new migration figures.
Rishi Sunak is under fire over new migration figures.

The powerful New Conservative group were quick to rush out a statement condemning the Prime Minister and urging action, and were given a figurehead to rally around later in the day as Ms Braverman also spoke out.

Now a powerful presence on the backbenches, the former home secretary said while in Government, she had pushed for a number of measures, including an annual cap on net migration, the closure of the graduate visa route and a cap on health and social care visas.

Ms Braverman said: “Today’s record migration stats show we’ve let in an extra million people in just two years, a population equivalent to Birmingham. The pressure on housing, the NHS, schools, wages, and community cohesion, is unsustainable. When do we say ‘enough is enough?’

“We were elected on a pledge to reduce net migration, which was 229k in 2019. Today’s record numbers are a slap in the face to the British public, who have voted to control and reduce migration at every opportunity. We must act now to reduce migration to sustainable levels.

“Brexit gave us the tools. It’s time to use them.”

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

In an intervention that sours any good will with Downing Street following Wednesday’s Autumn Statement, many MPs on the right of the party have called on Mr Sunak to honour that manifesto commitment.

The right-wing New Conservative group of MPs – led by Miriam Cates, Danny Kruger and Sir John Hayes – was among those demanding action from the Prime Minister and newly-appointed home secretary James Cleverly.

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The group said: “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.”

Red Wall Tory MP Jonathan Gullis said the figures were “completely unacceptable” and would “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, claimed the figures pointed to a serious political failure in controlling post-Brexit borders. He said: “I’m embarrassed that we haven’t achieved what we set out to achieve”.

Tory MP Sir Simon Clarke said the migration level was “unsustainable both economically and socially”, adding there was “no public mandate” for it.

Former minister Neil O’Brien called the numbers “extraordinary” and said Mr Sunak “must now take immediate and massive action”.

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

In comments that did little to calm Tory anger, Mr Cleverly insisted the latest figure “is largely in line with our own immigration statistics” and claimed the Government “remains completely committed to reducing levels of legal migration”.

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At a briefing with lobby journalists, Downing Street was asked whether the Prime Minister had got the balance right this year between lowering net migration and supporting the economy.

A No.10 spokeswoman said: “He remains clear it is too high and that’s why we are looking at further options, but we need to do this and approach this and respond in a way that also supports our [economy].”

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.

Labour said 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 per cent increase in work visas and a 156 per cent 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 per cent wage discount in the immigration system and to link it to training requirements.”

Meanwhile, the SNP's home affairs spokesperson Alison Thewliss claimed the Tory infighting showed the need for independence.

She said: "The Westminster obsession with net migration figures just strengthens the need for Scotland to have the full powers of independence and control over migration. The Tories are simply hiding the fact the UK Government is failing to attract the talent we need in key sectors to boost our economy and NHS through their obsession with these figures.

"Damaging Tory and Labour Party Brexit and hostile environment policies have driven talent away – and caused staffing shortages that have harmed our NHS, businesses and public services, leaving people in Scotland worse off”.



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