'New Conservatives' insist loyalty to Rishi Sunak as they call for 'drastic' cut to immigration levels

3 July 2023, 20:08 | Updated: 4 July 2023, 00:00

Rishi Sunak is facing a threat from the right of the Conservative party over immigration
Rishi Sunak is facing a threat from the right of the Conservative party over immigration. Picture: Alamy
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

A group of Tory MPs who have called for Rishi Sunak to "drastically" reduce migration numbers have insisted they remain loyal to the prime minister.

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Mr Sunak is facing a fresh threat from the right wing of the Conservative party, with a group of MPs in his party demanding the government to reduce migration by 80,000.

They also want the government to introduce a cap of 20,000 on the number of refugees eligible for resettlement in the UK.

The 'New Conservative' MPs include party deputy chairman Lee Anderson, Jonathan Gullis and Miriam Cates, as well as Ipswich MP Tom Hunt.

While the group has called for a drastic change from the government, Mr Hunt insisted on Monday that the group remains loyal to Mr Sunak.

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"I know there is a lot being written about 'Tory rebels'," Mr Hunt said.

“I’ll just make it absolutely clear, that is not how we see it. I supported Rishi Sunak to become Prime Minister, I do not regret the decision I made.

“I think particularly on illegal migration he has been incredibly brave with the policies he has adopted, particularly in relation to the Illegal Migration Bill and his continued support for the Rwanda policy.”

Read More: Rishi Sunak facing threat from right of Conservative party, as MPs demand cuts to 'destabilising' mass migration

He continued: "I think recently though, the level and the scale of migration has been too high, it has been unsustainable.

“I think it is wrong to brand people who have concerns about net migration being at the level it is right now as somehow hostile to immigration, when it is absolutely not the case.

“It is disparaging to label people as xenophobes for having concerns about having net migration at half-a-million a year.”

PM Rishi Sunak Meets With Bahrain's Prince Salman At Downing Street
PM Rishi Sunak Meets With Bahrain's Prince Salman At Downing Street. Picture: Getty

The group is calling on ministers to close temporary visa schemes for care workers as part of the effort to slash immigration. Among 12 demands, they also want the government to:

  • Increase the threshold for the main skilled work visa salary to £38,000 per year
  • Impose a 5% limit on the amount of social housing given to non-British people until the number of British families waiting for housing clears
  • Stop students staying in the UK after graduating for up to two years without a job offer

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The MPs are calling on ministers to close temporary visa schemes for care workers
The MPs are calling on ministers to close temporary visa schemes for care workers. Picture: Alamy

Net migration to the UK stood at 606,000 in 2022 - the highest ever, despite Conservative pledges to cut the amount of people coming into the country.

Some 1.2 million people arrived in total last year, and 507,000 left. Of the people arriving, 925,000 were from outside the EU. Many who arrived came as part of refugee schemes from Ukraine and other countries.

Activists in favour of these high levels of immigration argue that the UK needs migrants to work in jobs such as in care homes. The 'New Conservatives' say that these jobs should have higher salaries, so some of the millions of economically inactive people already living in the UK take them.

The 'New Conservative' MPs were all voted into parliament in 2017 or 2019.

The MPs have told Mr Sunak in the report, authored by Tom Hunt, that the Conservatives won their large 2019 majority in large part because of a pledge to cut immigration.

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The MPs want government to slash migration figures
The MPs want government to slash migration figures. Picture: Alamy

The group says the current post-Brexit immigration system has been "too lenient" and is not working, saying that "mass migration is having destabilising economic and cultural consequences".

The report says: "Visa eligibility for both care workers and senior care workers were introduced as 'temporary' measures to address post-pandemic labour shortages.

"They were added to the Shortage Occupation List 'in response to pandemic pressures'.

"Neither measure has yet been brought to a close, despite the abatement of the pandemic and its associated consequences."

The group says the Illegal Migration Bill is "encouraging" because it contains plans to impose an annual cap on refugees who come to the UK legally.

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak. Picture: Getty

The report suggests that a "cap of 20,000 would offer a number that, excluding Hong Kongers and Ukrainians, exceeds the total number of people granted asylum or resettled in the UK in any given year since 2002.

"This cap could then be lifted in order to respond to an unforeseen emergency, such as a natural disaster or a war." Between 2014 and 2022, about 54,000 people were resettled or relocated to the UK under refugee schemes.

The MPs also call for the Government to "reserve university study visas for the brightest international students by excluding the poorest performing universities from eligibility criteria".

They write: "In recent years...there have been increased applications for study visas from students who wish to attend non-Russell group universities.

"A study visa that is blind to the rigour of university courses is also blind to the earning potential, or even employability, of graduates who can then go on to apply for Graduate work visas."

Lee Anderson
Lee Anderson. Picture: Alamy

In making the call, the report argues that immigration policy "should not be used to prop up the finances of underperforming universities".

The report was launched by Mr Anderson and other Tory MPs. It is the latest sign of backbench pressure on the prime minister to curb immigration ahead of the next general election, expected before January 2025.

The Government earlier this year announced plans to prevent some overseas students bringing dependants to the UK.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has been outspoken about her desire to bring immigration numbers down, but other members of Mr Sunak's Cabinet are believed to be more relaxed about the issue.