Migrant numbers 'need to be brought down' minister tells LBC as Tories at odds over immigration levels

29 November 2023, 08:51 | Updated: 29 November 2023, 08:53

The Environment Secretary was speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari
The Environment Secretary was speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari. Picture: LBC/Alamy
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Migration numbers are 'too high' and 'need to be brought down' a minister tells LBC after Robert Jenrick distanced himself from Downing Street while addressing MPs.

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Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said the number of migrants to the UK was too high and needs to be brought down.

"I absolutely agree the numbers are too high and we need to bring them down," he said.

When Nick asked if there was a cap on migration needed Mr Barcaly would not be drawn beyond saying the numbers needed to be "brought down".

It comes after Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said people were "sick of talk" and want action to reduce net migration, as he insisted a "serious package of fundamental reforms" is planned.

He told MPs he would have curbed the number of people coming into the UK “before last Christmas” if it could have been done.

The Immigration Minister said official estimates that net migration up for 2023, up until June, stood at 672,000 places "untold pressure" on housing supply, public services and "makes successful integration virtually impossible".

Read more: Migrants coming to the UK 'have to be the right sort of people' Kemi Badenoch says slamming 'far too high' 2022 numbers

Read more: Soaring migration 'not a betrayal of Brexit', Michael Gove tells LBC, as he insists Govt will drive down numbers

He also said there are "strong arguments" for introducing a cap on migration numbers and suggested conversations about the measures are being held within the Government.

Mr Jenrick suggested he would have liked to bring forward tighter migration reforms last year, amid reports that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reneged on a plan to bring in harsher controls he had agreed with Suella Braverman in exchange for her support during the 2022 Conservative Party leadership contest.

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick was speaking to MPs on Tuesday
Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick was speaking to MPs on Tuesday. Picture: Alamy

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

"So far this year we've initiated a significant number of investigations into sectors, such as care companies suspected of breaching immigration rules.

"We are actively working across Government on further substantive measures and will announce details to the House as soon as possible."

Ali Miraj urges Rishi Sunak to take 'more action' on migration

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, who secured a Commons urgent question on the issue, said: "Net migration figures are now three times the level that they were at the 2019 general election when the Conservatives promised to reduce them, and that includes a 65% increase in work migration this year that reflects a complete failure by the Conservatives on both the economy and on immigration."

She added: "Net migration should come down. Immigration is important for Britain and always will be, but the system needs to be properly controlled and managed so it's fair and effective and is properly linked to the economy."

Mr Jenrick, responding, said: "We believe that the number of people coming into this country is too high, that it is placing unbearable pressure on our public services and on housing, that it is making it impossible to integrate people into this country and is harming community cohesion and national unity.

"It is also a moral failure because it's leaving people on welfare and enabling companies to reach all too often for the easy lever of foreign labour.

"For all those reasons, we are determined to tackle this issue. We understand the concerns of the British public and I'm here 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."

Andrew Marr points out the inconsistencies in Rishi Sunak's messaging on migration

Official figures published last week showed net migration reached a record 745,000 in 2022, prompting Tory calls for curbs.

Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) said Mr Jenrick has his "full support", adding: "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?"

Mr Jenrick replied: "I support (Mr Gullis) in his lobbying and campaigning for the Government to take this issue seriously because he speaks for millions of people across the country who see the levels of net migration as far too high.

"Of course it's right that we want the UK to be a country which is open to the very best and the brightest, and that's why we've taken action in creating visa routes, such as the global talent one that the Prime Minister was promoting at the investment summit this week.

"But 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."

The Environment Secretary has told LBC the government is doing all it can to bring net migration down.
The Environment Secretary has told LBC the government is doing all it can to bring net migration down. Picture: Alamy

Asked by Tory former minister Dr Caroline Johnson if his plan will be in place before Christmas, Mr Jenrick said: "My plan would have been brought to the House before last Christmas if I could have done, but let's hope we can bring forward a substantive package of reforms very quickly.

"I am working intensively with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. We are at one on this issue."

Mr Jenrick's answer suggesting he would have liked to move more swiftly comes after the Telegraph newspaper suggested a deal between Ms Braverman and Mr Sunak included plans to raise the salary threshold for migrant workers to £40,000.

Conservative Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson, pointing to the Labour benches, said: "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?"

Tory MP for Dudley North Marco Longhi also pressed for a cap on net migration.

In response to Mr Anderson, Mr Jenrick 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."

Tom Hunt, Tory MP for Ipswich, warned that a growing disconnect between attitudes to migration and reality is an "affront to our shared democracy", adding: "In 2019, I stood on a manifesto when net migration was around 220,000 and I promised my constituents it would come down. Last year it was at 740,000. This year it is 650,000. This is a truly shocking state of affairs."

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