Migration soars to 745,000 in record high as Rishi Sunak blasted by furious Tories

Migration soars to 745,000 in record high as Rishi Sunak blasted by furious Tories
Millie Cooke

By Millie Cooke

Published: 23/11/2023

- 09:33

Updated: 23/11/2023

- 12:15

The latest figures will spark renewed backlash from Conservative MPs, who have repeatedly expressed concern over the UK's soaring migration

Net migration soared to a record 745,000 last year, revised figures show.

While the figures were previously estimated to be around 606,000 in the year ending December 2022, the ONS updated their estimates in figures published today.

Today's figures put net migration to the year June 2023 at 672,000, up by 65,000 compared to the previous 12 months, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.

Comparing this year's figures with those published for the year ending December 2022, the ONS said: "While it is too early to say if this is the start of a new downward trend, these more recent estimates indicate a slowing of immigration coupled with increasing emigration."

It blames the increase in overall net migration on non-EU national, which has increased from 179,000 in June 2019 to 768,000 in June 2023.

The ONS explained: "This overall change across the time period is because of increased numbers of people arriving for work, to study and for humanitarian reasons."

Health and care workers and their dependents make up a large proportion of those coming to the UK, with 154,000 health and care visas granted. This is nearly double the previous year at 86,000.

The Conservative Party under David Cameron was elected in 2010 on a manifesto pledge to bring net migration down to below 100,000.

The figures represent a dramatic increase from pre-Brexit immigration levels, with net migration for the year ending June 2015 - the year before the UK voted to leave the EU - at 336,000.

The figures will spark furious backlash from Tory MPs, who have repeatedly expressed concern over soaring migration levels.

Hitting out at today's figure, former Conservative minister Simon Clarke called for an "urgent change of approach".

He wrote on X: "This level of legal immigration is unsustainable both economically and socially.

"There is no public mandate for it, it is beyond our public services’ capacity to support and it undercuts UK productivity and wages by substituting cheaper foreign labour.

"We need an urgent change of approach. The earnings threshold for visa applications needs to be raised significantly.

"The shortage occupations list needs to be radically descoped. As set out by the Chancellor, we need to ensure more Britons are supported into work."

Former Health Minister Neil O'Brien said: "Here's net migration since 1947. In every election since 1992 we have promised to reduce migration.

"Today's extraordinary numbers mean the PM must now take immediate and massive action to do just that."

Meanwhile, MP Jonathan Gullis described the figures as being "completely unacceptable to the majority of the British people", demanding "drastic action now to bring legal migration down, as well as stopping the boats".

He told GB News: “The Prime Minister and Home Secretary should look at the ideas of the New Conservatives in order to get these numbers down quickly.

“Three things that can be done immediately are increasing the salary threshold for the main skilled work visa to a minimum of £38,000, extend the closure of the student dependant route to those enrolled on one year research Master’s degrees, and raise the minimum combined income threshold for sponsoring a spouse.”

The New Conservatives - a group made up primarily of 2019 Tory MPs - have been demanding Sunak pursue more conservative policies, including slashing migration numbers.

Responding to the figures, Home Secretary James Cleverly said the Government remains "completely committed to reducing levels of legal migration while at the same time focusing relentlessly on our priority of stopping the boats".

He said today's figure is "not showing a significant increase from last year’s figures and is largely in line with our own immigration statistics".

Cleverly added: “Behind the overall migration figures are a number of important and positive changes. Today’s statistics, which show the biggest drivers of immigration to the UK are students and health care workers, are testament to both our world-leading university sector and our ability to use our immigration system to prioritise the skills we need.

“Last year we expanded our health worker visa to address the urgent need for more social care workers. And I am proud that over the last decade the UK has welcomed more than half a million people through humanitarian routes, principally from Hong Kong, Ukraine and Afghanistan.

“But we do need to reduce our overall numbers by eliminating the abuse and exploitation of our visa system by both companies and individuals."

It comes just one week after the Government was dealt a blow when the Supreme Court deemed its plan to send migrants to Rwanda unlawful.

All five justices unanimously agreed with the Court of Appeal’s conclusion that the Rwanda policy was unlawful.

Sources told Politico former Home Secretary Suella Braverman would stage an intervention today if today's figures were "unacceptably high".

The former Home Secretary, who was sacked earlier this month after publishing an unauthorised Op-Ed criticising the police, sent a scathing letter to Sunak after she left office criticising his record on tackling migration.

She accused Sunak of "betraying" the mission to "stop the boats", claiming he "rejected" available options she presented to him, such as "blocking off" the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act.

She said: "I was clear from day one that if you did not wish to leave the ECHR, the way to securely and swiftly deliver our Rwanda partnership would be to block off the ECHR, the HRA and any other obligations which inhibit our ability to remove those with no right to be in the UK.

"Our deal expressly referenced ‘notwithstanding clauses’ to that effect.

"Your rejection of this path was not merely a betrayal of our agreement, but a betrayal of your promise to the nation that you would do 'whatever it takes' to stop the boats."

Braverman also accused Sunak of failing to "prepare any sort of credible 'Plan B'."

She wrote: "At every stage of litigation I cautioned you and your team against assuming we would win. I repeatedly urged you to take legislative measures that would better secure us against the possibility of defeat. You ignored these arguments. You opted instead for wishful thinking as a comfort blanket to avoid having to make hard choices. This irresponsibility has wasted time and left the country in an impossible position.

"If we lose in the Supreme Court, an outcome that I have consistently argued we must be prepared for, you will have wasted a year and an Act of Parliament, only to arrive back at square one. Worse than this, your magical thinking — believing that you can will your way through this without upsetting polite opinion — has meant you have failed to prepare any sort of credible ‘Plan B’.

"I wrote to you on multiple occasions setting out what a credible Plan B would entail, and making clear that unless you pursue these proposals, in the event of defeat, there is no hope of flights this side of an election. I received no reply from you."

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