Rishi Sunak under pressure from Tory Right for cap on migration

Rishi Sunak hosts a Cabinet meeting in Downing Street on Tuesday
Rishi Sunak hosts a Cabinet meeting in Downing Street on Tuesday - Jacob Groet/No 10

Rishi Sunak has come under pressure from the Tory Right, led by Lee Anderson, the deputy party chairman, to introduce a cap on migration.

Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, said there were “strong arguments” for such caps as Tory MPs backed him to persuade Mr Sunak to adopt his hardline package of measures to reduce record levels of net migration.

Mr Jenrick also indicated he had been thwarted until now in bringing in reforms, telling MPs: “My plan would have been brought to the House before last Christmas if I could have done.”

No 10 is considering proposals including limits on migrant dependants, raising the minimum salary threshold for foreign skilled workers, a cap on health and care visas and scrapping pay discounts for occupations in which there is a shortage of workers.

It follows last week’s figures from the Office for National Statistics that showed net migration had hit a record 745,000 last year – three times the pre-Brexit level of 239,000, which the Conservatives had pledged to reduce in their 2019 manifesto.

Speaking in the Commons during an urgent question on the net migration numbers, Mr Anderson said: “People in Ashfield have had enough of this. Seven thousand people on the council house waiting list. People struggling to get a GP appointment. People struggling to get a dental appointment, struggling to get school places.

“Isn’t it about time, minister, that we had a cap on migration and put some clear divide between us and that lot over there [Labour]?”

Mr Anderson was backed in his call by Tory MPs Marco Longhi and Scott Benton.

Mr Jenrick told him there are “definitely strong arguments for using caps whether in general or on specific visas but these are conversations that we need to conclude within government”.

He said the Government would bring forward a “serious package of fundamental reforms to address this issue once and for all”.

Suella Braverman argued for an annual cap for migrants as home secretary before she was sacked by Mr Sunak. As deputy to her and now to James Cleverly, the new Home Secretary, Mr Jenrick is pushing a four-point plan that includes raising the minimum salary required for workers to come to the UK from £26,200 to £35,000.

He is also pushing for a ban on all dependants for social care workers, a cap on the total number of NHS and social care visas and scrapping the shortage occupation list, which allows employers in shortage areas to pay 20 per cent below the going rate.

Jonathan Gullis, a Red Wall MP and former minister, told Mr Jenrick he fully supported him but added: “I am deeply concerned and confused because at the weekend I get the Prime Minister saying that migration is too high and needs to come down to more sustainable levels – the full-fat option.

“Yesterday I get the skimmed option, with the Prime Minister boasting about our competitive visa regime. The Cabinet members who sit round with [Mr Jenrick] – are they full-fat, semi-skimmed or skimmed?”

Sir Edward Leigh, another former minister, backed raising the salary threshold to £34,000, the UK median salary. “We know he is on the right side, so he has got to persuade the Prime Minister,” he told Mr Jenrick.

Sir John Hayes urged him to introduce curbs on dependants, saying: “We are relying on him to sort this out because we know that he shares our concern that it’s time for British workers for British jobs.”

Mr Jenrick said there was a “strong argument” for saying it was “unsustainable” for the UK to continue to take so many dependants who put pressure on housing, public services and schools.

He said it was also “not sensible” for the social care sector to be “reliant” on importing foreign labour, adding: “We need to take a more sensible, sustainable attitude to how we pay and look after people in such an important career.

“We have to reduce net migration and that does mean taking difficult choices and it means making a tangible difference now in the months ahead. The public are sick of talk – they want action, they want us to bring forward a clear plan.”

Mr Jenrick said he would have introduced his hardline package last Christmas if he had been able to as he warned that social integration was “virtually impossible” with the current scale of migration.

Lord Hague, the former Tory leader, said that if the Rwanda scheme failed, the Government would need to find another country to deport migrants to in order to deter small boat Channel crossings.  “If it wasn’t Rwanda it would have to be somewhere else,” he said.

04:00 PM GMT

That is all for today...

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03:16 PM GMT

Government announces plan for minimum service levels in schools during strikes

Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, has announced she is launching a consultation on introducing minimum service levels in schools to curb disruptive strike action.

Ms Keegan said that after discussions with unions about how best to protect pupils from strikes “we’ve not been able to make progress on reaching a voluntary arrangement”.

“It is only fair that the right of individuals to strike is balanced with a child’s right to receive an education,” she tweeted.

The consultation will be open for nine weeks, closing on January 30 next year, with the aim of having minimum service level rules in place by the start of the next academic year.

03:03 PM GMT

Cleverly becomes ‘flak magnet’ for migration anger as he prepares to meet backbenchers

James Cleverly is to meet Tory MPs later today amid growing anger over migration, as allies said he had become a “flak magnet” for criticism over the stalled Rwanda policy and record net migration.

With a growing number of MPs openly demanding a tougher approach on migration, the Home Secretary is to meet backbenchers this evening to hear their concerns and provide a briefing on what he plans to do.

You can read the full story here.

02:13 PM GMT

Inflation becoming more ‘home grown’, warns Bank of England deputy governor

Inflation is “becoming much more home grown” and will force interest rates to stay high for longer, a deputy governor of the Bank of England has warned.

Sir Dave Ramsden said “much stickier” price rises in Britain’s services sector, which covers everything from banking to waiting tables, were making it difficult to reach the Bank’s 2pc inflation target.

You can read the full story here.

01:48 PM GMT

Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson calls for migration cap

Lee Anderson, a deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, has called for a cap on migration.

He said: “People in Ashfield have had enough of this. 7,000 people on the council house waiting list. People struggling to get a GP appointment. People struggling to get a dental appointment. Struggling to get school places.

“Isn’t it about time, minister, that we had a cap on migration and put some clear divide between us and that lot over there?”

Mr Jenrick replied: “My honourable friend who represents a constituency near to mine speaks for my constituents as he does for his in saying that the British public want us to get on with the job now and bring down the numbers coming into this country.”

The immigration minister said there are “definitely strong arguments for using caps whether in general or on specific visas but these are conversations that we need to conclude within government”.

01:29 PM GMT

Immigration minister vows to solve net migration issue 'once and for all'

Robert Jenrick said the Government will bring forward a “serious package of fundamental reforms” to address the net migration issue “once and for all”.

Speaking in the House of Commons, the immigration minister said: “We are determined to tackle this issue.

“We understand the concerns of the British public and I am here today to say that we share them and that we are going to bring forward a serious package of fundamental reforms to address this issue once and for all.”

01:24 PM GMT

Labour accuses Tories of 'complete failure' on immigration

Yvette Cooper said net migration numbers were now “three times the level that they were at the 2019 general election when the Conservatives promised to reduce them”.

The shadow home secretary accused the Tories of “complete failure” on the economy and immigration.

Speaking in the House of Commons as she asked an urgent question on the subject, Ms Cooper said that “net migration should come down”.

She said immigration is “important for Britain... but the system needs to be properly controlled and managed so it is fair and effective and is properly linked to the economy”.

01:19 PM GMT

'Crystal clear' that net migration must be cut, says Jenrick

The immigration minister said it was “crystal clear” that net migration numbers needed to be “significantly” reduced and the Government will bring forward new measures to do just that “as soon as possible”.

Robert Jenrick told MPs: “It is crystal clear that we need to reduce the numbers significantly by bringing forward further measures to control and to reduce the number of people coming here and separately to stop the abuse and exploitation of our visa system by companies and individuals.”

He added: “We are actively working across government on further substantive measures and will announce details to the House as soon as possible.”

01:16 PM GMT

Record net migration placing 'untold pressure' on public services, says Jenrick

Robert Jenrick said record levels of net migration are placing “untold pressure” on housing and public services and are making successful integration “virtually impossible”.

Responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons, the immigration minister said: “The most recent published data from the Office for National Statistics estimated that net migration in the year to June 2023 was at 672,000.

“This places untold pressure on housing supply, public services and makes successful integration virtually impossible.

“As the Prime Minister and Home secretary have repeatedly made clear, this is far too high and the Government remains committed to reducing levels of legal migration in line with the manifesto commitment every single Conservative MP stood on in 2019 and the expressed wish of the British public as they have articulated at every singe general election in the last 30 years.”

12:57 PM GMT

Sunak hails 'very exciting' first sustainable transatlantic flight

Rishi Sunak said today’s first transatlantic flight by an airliner powered by pure sustainable aviation fuel (Saf) was a “very exciting” moment.

Virgin Atlantic is operating the flight from London’s Heathrow to New York’s JFK airport with a Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

In a video posted on Twitter, the Prime Minister said: “Right now something very exciting is happening in the sky above us.”

He went on: “Not only will Saf be key in decarbonising aviation, but it could create a UK industry with an annual turnover of almost £2.5 billion which could support over 5,000 UK jobs.

“Its great that British businesses and institutions like Virgin Atlantic, Rolls-Royce, Boeing and Sheffield University continue to raise the bar in aviation. Now, that is blue sky thinking.”

12:32 PM GMT

No10 accuses Greece of acting in bad faith amid Elgin Marbles row

Rishi Sunak decided it would “not be productive” to hold a meeting with his Greek counterpart after it was felt a reassurance not to use the visit to focus on the Elgin Marbles was “not adhered to”, Downing Street said.

Mr Sunak pulled talks with Greek premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis after he used an interview on Sunday to push for the return of the marbles, also known as the Parthenon Sculptures, saying the current situation was like the Mona Lisa painting being cut in half.

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman told reporters at lunchtime: “When requesting a meeting with the Prime Minister this week, the Greek government provided reassurances that they would not use the visit as a public platform to relitigate long settled matters relating to the ownership of the Parthenon Sculptures, which would only serve to distract from those important issues I just outlined.

“Given those assurances were not adhered to, the Prime Minister felt it would not be productive to hold a meeting dominated by that issue, rather than the important challenges facing Greek and British people.

“The Deputy Prime Minister was available to meet the Greek Prime Minister to discuss the wider topics and we are disappointed the prime minister opted not to take this meeting.”

12:23 PM GMT

Labour granted urgent question on record net migration figures

Labour has been granted an urgent question in the House of Commons this afternoon on last week’s record net migration figures.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper will be asking the question and it is unclear who will be responding on behalf of the Government.

The UQ should get underway just after 1pm.

12:11 PM GMT

Lord Cameron to attend first Nato meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels

Lord Cameron will underline the UK’s “unwavering” support for Ukraine as he attends his first meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Brussels later today and tomorrow.

The Foreign Secretary said: “NATO keeps over one billion people safe and secure. And nearly 75 years on, the Alliance is stronger than ever.

“Putin first believed that NATO would be divided and that Ukraine would crumble. Now he believes he can wait out his war in Ukraine. He was wrong then and he is wrong now.

“Together, the UK and our NATO allies will never turn a blind eye to Russian aggression. The UK will continue to be a steadfast supporter of Ukraine and a champion for European peace and stability.”

11:56 AM GMT

Lord Hague 'went to great lengths' to avoid becoming home secretary

Lord Hague has revealed he went to “great lengths” to avoid becoming home secretary, describing the Home Office as a “minefield” for ministers.

Asked about James Cleverly’s first two weeks as Home Secretary, Lord Hague told Times Radio: “He has been Foreign Secretary for a while before this and he showed good instincts to use fairly soft words but do get on with things and I think that is what he will want to do as the Home Secretary.

“It is a really difficult job. I went to great lengths in my career to make sure I never was the home secretary.

“You are walking straight into the biggest minefield there. In this case, ‘oh, you’re the Home Secretary, well done, but either way, the migration figures are coming out at a record and the Supreme Court is about to strike down our policy, and work that one out’.”

Lord Hague said he believed Mr Cleverly will “come up with good solutions” and “I have got a lot of faith in him”.

11:31 AM GMT

Pictured: Lord Cameron and Andrew Mitchell leave No10 after Cabinet meeting

Lord Cameron and Andrew Mitchell leave 10 Downing Street this morning after a meeting of the Cabinet
Lord Cameron and Andrew Mitchell leave 10 Downing Street this morning after a meeting of the Cabinet - Jamie Lorriman

11:17 AM GMT

Sunak ‘not the sort of person to just get in a strop’, says Lord Hague

Lord Hague said Rishi Sunak is “not the sort of person to just get in a strop” as he responded to the Elgin Marbles row.

The former foreign secretary told Times Radio: “I don’t know, I haven’t spoken to him or anybody around him since this happened last night but I imagine there has been some misunderstanding about how the Greeks would behave before the meeting or assumption about that so that it wasn’t possible to have the meeting on the basis of being, things really being steamed up in advance with such very strong language in interviews and so on.

“You can see how then things can break down diplomatically. But, yes, he is not the sort of person to just get in a strop. Rishi Sunak is a very patient, broadminded person.

“I think there has been something like that and it is not a great advert for diplomacy all round, actually, so let’s hope they can meet in the future.”

10:58 AM GMT

Solution to Elgin Marbles row ‘shouldn’t be impossible’, says Lord Hague

Lord Hague said he believed a solution to the Elgin Marbles row “shouldn’t be impossible”.

The former Tory leader told Times Radio: “There is a rational solution to something like this, between friendly countries.

“They both have their legal situations, for instance it is illegal in this country to give away to other countries what is in the British Museum.

“And they will have their political positions. But it shouldn’t be impossible to come to some sort of agreement, a loan agreement, a swap agreement, some sort of joint treaty or whatever it may be that resolves to reasonable satisfaction the dispute over the Elgin Marbles.”

10:37 AM GMT

UK will need to replace Rwanda with another country if deportation plan fails, says Lord Hague

Lord Hague said if the Rwanda scheme fails the Government will need to find another country to deport migrants to in order to deter small boat Channel crossings.

The former Tory leader said a deportation scheme like the Rwanda one is a “necessary component” of immigration policy and “if it wasn’t Rwanda it would have to be somewhere else”.

Rishi Sunak is trying to resurrect his Rwanda plan after the Supreme Court ruled it was unlawful.

Lord Hague told Times Radio: “They have got to have some aspect of this policy that shows that if you come to Britain illegally you are going to get removed from it. But where you are going to get removed to has to meet all the necessary human rights and other requirements.

“So I think that is a necessary component, one way or another. If it wasn’t Rwanda it would have to be somewhere else. Other countries are looking at very similar things and so this has got to feature somewhere in most governments’ approach to immigration. Otherwise the illegal immigrant doesn’t have much disincentive at all to try to make that dangerous journey.”

10:14 AM GMT

Senior Tory MP: Number of foreign student dependents has gone ‘haywire’

The number of dependents being brought to the UK by foreign students has gone “haywire” in recent years and the system must be tightened up, a senior Tory MP has said.

Sir Robert Buckland, the former justice secretary, told GB News: “I think we need to absolutely tighten that up [students bringing dependents]. There’s evidence that some of those numbers have gone haywire in the last couple of years, up from a few thousand to now 80 or more thousand.

“I think that would be a quick win for the Government. But I do think at the end of the day people will accept students coming here because we know they’re going to go back. It’s making sure that the system is enforced so people have confidence in that which really irritates and annoys many of our electorate.

“It is getting that enforcement right that the Government has to concentrate on in the months and years ahead.”

09:46 AM GMT

Setting migrant salary threshold too high would risk care worker shortages

Sir Robert Buckland warned against setting a salary threshold too high for skilled migrants to come to the UK.

The former justice secretary said setting the threshold at too high a level could lead to shortages in key areas of the economy like social care.

The current threshold is set at £26,000 but there is an ongoing debate within the Government about raising it to as much as £45,000 to reduce the number of people coming to the UK.

Sir Robert told GB News: “If you over pitch the salary level, and I think there is a case to increase it because of inflation, it hasn’t been adjusted for a long time, if you price it too high, we will end up with shortages in key areas like care and frankly all that does is increase wage inflation and create the sort of problem which leads to overall inflationary pressures in the economy.”

He added: “Therefore we need to strike the balance between making sure our care sector, our farming sector can get people but not allowing the floodgates.”

09:21 AM GMT

Pictured: James Cleverly arrives in Downing Street for Cabinet meeting

James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, is pictured this morning arriving in Downing Street
James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, is pictured this morning arriving in Downing Street - Stefan Rousseau/PA

09:15 AM GMT

'I think there’s still legs in it, I still think it’s worth pursuing'

Former justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland said he believed there is “still legs” in the Government’s Rwanda plan but it is not the “be-all-and-end-all”.

He told GB News: “I’ve always said that Rwanda wasn’t the be-all-and-end-all and I’m very glad to hear the Home Secretary and Robert Jenrick agree with me.

“When you look at what the Government’s been doing, the big game changer was the Albania deal that the Prime Minister managed to sort out at the end of last year, which saw a really steep reduction, in fact an end to these young Albanian men coming over here on the boats, swinging the lead and really causing problems.

“That’s been solved and we’ve started to see the numbers come down on these small boats, which is good.

“It begs the question, will Rwanda help or hinder? I think there’s still legs in it, I still think it’s worth pursuing, because the principle of using a third country has been agreed as legal. That’s not the problem. The question is whether Rwanda will fit the bill.

“It seems to me that unless the Government does more, unless Rwanda does more, to satisfy everybody that it’s a safe country then we will continue to struggle with the problems that we saw up to and including the Supreme Court judgement.”

08:55 AM GMT

Labour: ‘Unnecessary’ for Sunak to cancel meeting with Greek PM

Labour said it was “unnecessary” for Rishi Sunak to cancel his meeting with the Greek Prime Minister amid a row over the Elgin Marbles.

Shadow policing minister Alex Norris told Sky News: “It seems a bit unnecessary, I think, for our Government to be acting in that way.”

Asked about speculation that the meeting was scrapped because Kyriakos Mitsotakis met Sir Keir Starmer before he was due to meet the Prime Minister, Mr Norris said: “If that’s the reason for it, then it’s extraordinary.

“I mean, I thought the logic that we heard overnight that the Prime Minister didn’t want to discuss that topic, I thought that was pretty thin. If it’s about that, then I’d be very surprised indeed.”

08:34 AM GMT

Cabinet minister does not deny Sunak 'snubbed' Greek PM

A Cabinet minister has not denied that Rishi Sunak “snubbed” the Greek Prime Minister by cancelling a meeting at which Kyriakos Mitsotakis had planned to raise the prospect of the return of the Elgin Marbles.

Mr Sunak had been due to meet Mr Mitsotakis but the meeting was cancelled by the UK side and a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden was offered instead. That offer was rejected.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper told BBC Breakfast this morning: “The Deputy Prime Minister offered to meet the Greek Prime Minister today and it proved not possible to make that happen. That’s a matter of regret. That offer was made. But the Government set out its position about the Elgin Marbles very clearly, which is they should stay as part of the permanent collection of the British Museum.”

Asked whether it amounted to a “snub” by Mr Sunak, Mr Harper said: “I’ve set out the position. I can keep repeating it.”

08:19 AM GMT

Government must 'awake from its catalepsy', says Rees-Mogg

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg said the Tories need to wake up and tackle the mass migration issue if they want to win the next general election.

The senior Conservative MP compared Rishi Sunak’s Government to Henry VI who suffered from catatonic inertia for 18 months.

He told GB News: “Henry VI, who became king in 1422, suffered from catatonic inertia for 18 months, beginning in the middle of 1453.

“Since then, we’ve never had so inert a government – until perhaps today. The current government seems similarly inert and needs to awake from its catalepsy if it wishes to win the election.”

08:16 AM GMT

Rees-Mogg: PM 'seemed to encourage even more migration'

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg said Rishi Sunak had “seemed to encourage even more migration” when the Prime Minister delivered a speech at a Global Investment Summit at Hampton Court Palace yesterday.

The former business secretary referred to the following quote from Mr Sunak: “We don’t have a monopoly on talent in this country. And we recognise that nearly half of our most innovative companies have an immigrant founder.

“So if you’re an innovator, an entrepreneur, a researcher, you should know that the most competitive visa regime for highly skilled international talent is right here in the United Kingdom.”

Sir Jacob told GB News: “The former home secretary [Suella Braverman] was serious about tackling mass migration. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister today at Hampton Court Palace at an investment summit seemed to encourage even more migration.”

08:10 AM GMT

Mass migration could cost the Tories next election, says Rees-Mogg

The question of mass migration could cost the Conservative Party victory at the next general election, Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg said.

He told GB News: “The question of mass migration could cost the Tory Party the next election. Mass migration is not the norm in our history, it’s the exception.

“And never before has there been such a large movement of people. There’s no reason to accept this as the status quo.

“Net migration stands provisionally at 672,000 for 2023, and this when we’ve got a government that promised to get the numbers down into the tens of thousands. It lets down an electorate that has given repeated mandates to get the numbers under control.

His comments came after official figures published last week revealed a new record net migration high of 745,000 in 2022, prompting calls from Tory MPs for Rishi Sunak to take immediate action to reduce the numbers.

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