Rishi Sunak backs away from Tory manifesto pledge to keep migration below 250,000 after refusing THREE times to confirm commitment to reducing numbers to 2019 levels
- PM said public’s main priority was to tackle illegal migration and ‘stop the boats’
- He insisted he did want to ‘bring legal migration down’ but refused to set target
The Prime Minister repeatedly refused to commit himself to delivering the 2019 promise to reduce net migration to below its then-level of 226,000 per year.
En route to Tokyo, he told reporters the public’s main priority was to tackle illegal migration and ‘stop the boats’.
He insisted he did want to ‘bring legal migration down’ but refused to set any target for it.
Mr Sunak appeared to blame Boris Johnson and Liz Truss for allowing net migration to rocket to 504,000 last year, saying he had ‘inherited’ a system already allowing in far more people than in 2019.
En route to Tokyo, the Prime Minister told reporters the public’s main priority was to tackle illegal migration and ‘stop the boats’ (File photo)
Ministers are braced for the figure to go even higher next week when the latest official figures are released, with some experts warning it could eventually get close to one million.
In 2019, the Conservatives finally abandoned David Cameron’s pledge to cut net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’ after a decade of failing to deliver it. Instead, the manifesto pledged there would be ‘fewer lower-skilled workers, and overall numbers will come down’.
Mr Sunak was asked three times whether he remained committed to reducing immigration to below 2019 levels, but each time ducked the question.
‘We are committed to bringing down legal migration as well,’ he said. ‘I do think most people’s number one priority when it comes to migration is illegal migration – that is crystal clear to me.
‘When it comes to legal migration, the key thing for people to know is we’re in control of why people are here, the circumstances and the terms on which they are here, making sure they contribute, to public services like the NHS for example.’
Asked again, he suggested the immigration figures ‘inherited’ from his predecessors would make the target very difficult.
‘I’ve inherited some numbers, I want to bring the numbers down,’ he said. ‘I do want to bring legal migration down. I think illegal migration is undoubtedly the country’s priority… but on legal migration as well we are committed to bringing those numbers down.’
Dozens of migrants were pictured arriving in Dover this morning after crossing the English Channel
Net migration has soared in the wake of the pandemic, partly due to people fleeing Ukraine and Hong Kong, but also partly because of a large number of work and student visas issued.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman has drawn up proposals to curb numbers, but they have so far met Cabinet resistance.
Mr Sunak yesterday announced a further 45,000 temporary visas for seasonal workers, saying it was ‘something that the farming community said to us they wanted’.
Jeremy Hunt told the British Chambers of Commerce that the Government would always be ‘pragmatic’ about using immigration to fill vacancies in the economy. The Chancellor said he was open to adding more jobs to the shortage occupation list, which makes it easier for companies to recruit from abroad.
The PM revealed he has established a Covid-style committee meeting twice a week to ensure new immigration laws to help tackle the Channel migrant crisis are implemented as soon as they are approved by Parliament.
‘I want to put the measures in place as quickly as possible, which is why we’re doing all the prep work now,’ he said.
Mr Sunak said his attendance at a Council of Europe summit in Iceland this week had produced ‘tangible’ results, including steps towards a deal on border co-operation with the EU that could lead to a returns agreement.