Sunak dismisses party’s previous pledge to reduce migration levels, emphasising tackling illegal immigration instead.
UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, declines to recommit to the Conservative’s election pledge made by predecessor Boris Johnson to reduce overall immigration levels, focusing instead on illegal migration, particularly small boat crossings.
Sunak stated, “I’ve inherited some numbers, I want to bring the numbers down,” during a press conference en route to a G7 summit in Japan, indicating a shift away from the party’s 2019 manifesto promise, which stated that “overall numbers will come down”.
His stance follows Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s call to decrease overall immigration figures and her assurance that the UK could train enough of its own fruit pickers, addressing the issue of labour shortage in agriculture.
However, Sunak, seemingly contradicting the Home Secretary, expressed his willingness to allow more seasonal fruit pickers into the UK if required. He also mentioned a “sensible” approach to migrant labour, suggesting that British workers would eventually fill economic gaps.
His stance provoked reactions from within his party. Jeremy Hunt, supporting Sunak’s pragmatic approach, explained to the British Chambers of Commerce that the Brexit decision, where immigration was a significant factor, was intended to transition to a “high skill and high wage economy” away from “unlimited, low-skilled migrants”. He emphasised the continued role of migrants in the labour market, stating, “we will, at the margins, always be pragmatic” about areas experiencing labour shortages.
Migration levels stood at 226,000 during the last election, with speculation suggesting this figure may have tripled in the forthcoming Office for National Statistics data.
Sunak’s non-commitment to lower overall immigration levels has intensified pressure within his party, with concerns about record net migration figures expected next week. However, Hunt reassured that the government was “completely united” on this new approach.