New Tory lobby group to pressure Rishi Sunak on migration ahead of expected record figures
Rishi Sunak will face fresh pressure over migration this week ahead of expected record figures with the formation of a new Tory lobby group focused on bringing down numbers.
On Sunday, a number of Conservative MPs announced the formation of a group dubbed the ‘New Conservatives’, which hopes to shape the party’s policies ahead of the next election and better align them with the interests of voters in the Midlands and “Red Wall” seats.
One of the group’s key priorities is pressuring the government to bring down legal migration and attempt to avoid breaking the Tories’ manifesto pledge in 2019 to lower numbers, according to The Sunday Times.
The group’s other priorities reportedly include inequities of fiscal drag, reversing cuts to the size of the armed forces, tackling the “woke agenda” and promoting apprenticeships over universities.
Its members include Conservative Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson, Stoke-on-Trent North MP Jonathan Gullis, and Devizes MP Danny Kruger, all of whom have been very outspoken on the topic of immigration.
Other members include Tory MPs Andrew Lewer, Nick Fletcher, Miriam Cates, Alexander Stafford and Sarah Atherton.
The group insists it is loyal to the Prime Minister, but Mr Kruger told the paper they believe “he has the opportunity to win big if he leans into the realignment of politics that happened at the last election”.
Ipswich MP Tom Hunt, another member of the group, told BBC Radio 4’s World this Weekend programme that net migration hitting 700,000 was “too high”.
“I think you’d really struggle to find even a significant minority of the population who would support net migration being at that kind of level, so I really do think it is incumbent on the government to try and bring those numbers down quite significantly over the coming years,” he said.
Mr Hunt added that it was “hardly surprising we have a housing crisis” amid such high migration levels and that it had “significant implications for cultural integration, social integration, and also public services”.
It comes as Rishi Sunak has promised to take action to bring down net migration as fresh figures are set to show it reached record levels last year.
The Prime Minister has promised to bring forward new measures to tackle climbing migration but these are not expected to be announced this coming week.
i understands the PM has been presented with a range of options around immigration policies but has not yet decided which he will take forward.
Speaking at a press conference in Hiroshima, Japan after attending the G7 leaders’ meeting, Mr Sunak said he was “committed” to bringing legal migration down, but would not discuss “specific measures” that were under consideration.
His intervention comes as official figures to be announced on 25 May are expected to show net migration hit around 700,000 to 800,000 last year, a significant increase from the previous record of 500,000 set in the year to June 2022.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman is understood to pushing for further restrictions on overseas masters students bringing dependents with them to Britain in a bid to bring down numbers.
ONS data shows that people arriving via study visas accounted for the largest proportion of long-term immigration of non-EU nationals, accounting for 39 per cent in the year to June 2022 at 277,000 people.
The Prime Minister has also faced fresh criticism for his attempts to tackle illegal migration and bring down the costs to taxpayers.
Former Home Secretary Priti Patel has also criticised the government for not doing enough to reduce the cost of housing asylum seekers and has claimed that Rishi Sunak refused a Home Office request for money to speed up asylum processing while he was Chancellor.
She told the Inside Whitehall podcast: “In 2021 [the Home Office] asked the Treasury for money to reform the asylum processing system. It was completely rejected by the way.
“We said if you don’t do this you’re going to end up spending more money basically because it will take longer to process the cases.”
She claimed the money would have gone toward digitizing the processing of claims which is currently largely paper-based, slowing down claims and contributing to the current backlog.
Ms Patel added that recent announcements by the government of measures to bring down the backlog were “a sticking plaster and too late”.
Mr Sunak pledged in December that he would clear the backlog of nearly 100,000 asylum claims by the end of 2023 with a series of measures which included a dedicated unit of 400 specialists will be set up to handle claims from Albanians.
Under the government’s plans, asylum caseworkers will also be given new guidance making it clear Albania is a safe country and requiring evidence of modern slavery when considering a claim.
Responding to Ms Patel’s claims, a No 10 source said Mr Sunak had invested in the asylum system both as Chancellor and as PM.
“As Chancellor, the PM put over £3 billion of investment into the UK’s asylum system, including an additional £85 million per year to improve the asylum case-working system and strengthening border security,” they said.
“As PM, he has put an unprecedented focus on curbing illegal migration and stopping the boats – making it one of his five top priorities.”