Rishi Sunak has said that there is a “lot more to do” to bring down net migration, after record figures saw Tory MPs pile pressure on the Prime Minister to take action.
Boris Johnson, Suella Braverman and other figures from the right of the party seized on the figures this week, urging Mr Sunak to honour a 2019 manifesto pledge to bring overall numbers down.
Net migration into the UK peaked at 745,000 in the year to December 2022, according to revised estimates published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Thursday.
The data places migration levels at three times higher than before Brexit.
Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, Mr Sunak said: “There is obviously a lot more to do and that’s why we need to take action.
“I announced previously significant tightening up on the number of dependants that students can bring, which has seen a very striking rise over the past year or two.
“This represents the single biggest measure of restriction on legal migration that anyone’s announced in years. That should give people a sense of my determination to bring these numbers down.”
He added: “As we go over them, as we see other areas of abuse, we won’t hesitate to take action and clamp down.”
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick is understood to have worked up a plan designed to appease calls from right-wing Tories for the Government to take action.
He is pushing for a ban on foreign social care workers from bringing in any dependants and a cap on the total number of NHS and social care visas.
His plan would also scrap the shortage occupation list, a programme that allows foreign workers to be paid 20% below the going rate in roles that suffer from a lack of skilled staff.
But it remains to be seen whether ministers will in fact move to tighten the post-Brexit migration rules overseen by successive Conservative administrations.
The Prime Minister also once again stressed the importance of the Rwanda asylum plan to tackle illegal migration.
It comes after Home Secretary James Cleverly insisted, in an interview with The Times, that the initiative is not the “be all and end all” to stopping Channel crossings.
“I’ve come into this job, I’ve had it for a year and I’ve already got the numbers down by a third, so I think people can trust me when I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to deliver on it.
“I need to finish the job and that means getting the Rwanda deal up and running. I’m prepared to do whatever is necessary to get that scheme operational,” Mr Sunak said.
Mr Sunak has pledged not to let a “foreign court” stop flights to Rwanda, with plans for a new treaty and emergency legislation to ensure the plan is legally watertight.
It was the UK Supreme Court, rather than “a foreign court”, that dealt the latest blow to the Government’s hopes of sending asylum seekers who arrive in the UK on a one-way trip to Rwanda.
But Tories are keen to ensure that the ECHR and the Strasbourg court that rules on it will not prevent the policy – first announced in 2020 – from being implemented.
The Prime Minister played down claims by his former home secretary Mrs Braverman that she had struck a deal with him to lend his leadership bid her support in exchange for key promises.
“Of course you have conversations with people when you are in a leadership election and not just Suella,” Mr Sunak said.
Asked about whether she could produce proof of a deal, he said: “That’s a question for her. I’m getting on with actually delivering things.”
It comes as Professor Brian Bell, who advises ministers on immigration, expressed concern about any move that would restrict dependants for overseas social care workers.
The chair of the Migration Advisory Committee told The Observer: “You can’t encourage enough British people to do the work in social care because it’s so badly paid. If you make it harder for migrants to come in on the route … that might begin to reduce the number who are coming in.
“That will reduce net migration, and so the government might be happy with that.
“But I think you have to ask the question, if you do it from the migration perspective, and you achieve that policy objective, aren’t you massively harming the social care sector?”
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