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Liz Truss And Rishi Sunak Toughen Immigration Pledges In Race To Become Prime Minister

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have laid out their competing plans for government if they were to win the Tory leadership contest (Alamy)

6 min read

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have both pledged to further toughen the UK's stance on illegal migration if they win the Tory leadership contest as they try to scoop up right wing support from the party’s grassroots.

The two rivals to become the next prime minister have laid out fresh measures to further tighten Britain’s borders as the leadership campaign evolves from a focus on the economy to wider policy issues.

Having clashed on taxation in the early stages of the contest, both finalists have spent the weekend setting out wider detail on what they would plan to do upon entering Number 10.

Writing in The Telegraph, Sunak, the former Chancellor, offered up a 10-point plan to "fix" the UK’s asylum system in his first 100 days in office, including an annual cap on the number of refugees entering the country, and reducing the involvement of the ECHR.

Meanwhile Truss, the Foreign Secretary, promised to expand the Border Force, while both candidates said they would re-commit to the government's controversial Rwanda asylum scheme – despite the fact Britain currently stands to lose the £120m it has already paid to the East African country if the plan to deport migrants there is ruled unlawful by the courts later this year.

The first flight was grounded in June after a series of legal challenges, and with a Judicial Review still ongoing another attempt is yet to be scheduled. But Truss said not only is it the "right" policy, she also indicated the scheme could be extended further.

"I'm determined to see it through to full implementation, as well as exploring other countries that we can work on similar partnerships with. It's the right thing to do," she told the Mail on Sunday.

"I'm also determined to make sure that we have the right level of forces at our border.”

Pledging to double Border Force staff levels from 9,000 to 18,000, she would also bring forward a strengthened UK Bill of Rights to provide a "sound legal basis" to tackle illegal migration if she was to become PM.

"I understand it's a priority for people and we need to make sure our immigration system is fair, and this illegal immigration that we're seeing across the Channel is both unfair and incredibly dangerous, and it is one of my priorities to make sure it is sorted,” she told the paper.

Sunak’s plan includes a commitment to a narrower definition of who qualifies for asylum compared to that offered by the European Convention on Human Rights, with enhanced powers to detain, tag and monitor illegal migrants.

He also promised to give Parliament control over who comes to the UK by creating an annual cap on the number of refugees accepted each year, albeit one that can be changed in the case of sudden emergencies, such as the crisis in Ukraine.

Sunak said one of his first duties as PM would be to speak to French president Emmanuel Macron to find a solution to small boat crossings, which he also suggests should be tackled with a new cross-government taskforce.

"Right now the system is chaotic, with law-abiding citizens seeing boats full of illegal immigrants coming from the safe country of France with our sailors and coastguards seemingly powerless to stop them,” he wrote in The Sunday Telegraph.

"It must stop, and if I am prime minister I will stop it."

Beyond migration policy, Sunak has also said tackling the backlog in the NHS is the biggest public services emergency, as figures show more than 6.6 million people in England are waiting for hospital treatment.

He said he plans to eliminate one-year waiting times by September 2024 and get overall numbers falling by next year.

In a campaign speech in Margaret Thatcher's hometown of Grantham on Saturday, he said the government needs a “fundamentally different approach” or the health service will come under unsustainable pressure and break this winter.

"We will take the best of our Covid response and apply those lessons to clearing the massive backlog in the NHS,” Sunak said, suggesting measures like offering more diagnostic services – such as MRI and CT scans – in repurposed empty high street shops.

The blueprint for Truss’ first month as PM is laid out in The Sunday Times, with an emergency budget pencilled in by the final week of September along with a new departmental spending review.

The fiscal event would be used to reverse the 1.25 per cent hike in national insurance, cancel the planned increase of corporation tax to 25 per cent and cut £150 from energy bills by freezing green levies. 

The three measures, amounting to £30 bn in tax cuts, would be implemented from April, the beginning of the financial year.

But Sunak dismissed Truss's tax plans as “immoral”, and said that he was the candidate with the "common sense" Thatcherite credentials.

It was another example of how the shadow of the Tory party’s most successful modern leader has loomed large over this contest.

While Truss has so far drawn most associations with Thatcher, including her clothes, Sunak has attempted to align his steady-as-she-goes approach to the public finances with the former PM to try and boost his popularity with the Conservative membership.

Truss has expressed her frustration with the comparisons this week, telling reporters “we need to move on” during a campaign visit in Kent, having tried to distance herself from Thatcher on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"I am my own person,” she said. ”I'm from a very different background.

“I grew up in Yorkshire. I went to a comprehensive school. I am somebody who has worked all my life to get things done. And that's what I want to do in the job.”

So far it seems to be working for her, after a survey of Tory members by YouGov this week saw her lead Sunak by 62 per cent to 38 per cent.

However, new polling by Opinium suggests voters are largely split between the pair, with 43 per cent believing Sunak would be a good PM compared to 36 per cent for Truss.

With ballots not going out until next week, the two candidates will have two televised debates and the first hustings for Conservative activists to make their case for why they should win.

After a head-to-head on the BBC on Monday, there is another the following day hosted by The Sun and TalkTV. Candidates will then head to Leeds on Thursday for the first stop on their tour around the UK speaking to party members.

The closing date for ballots to be sent back is 2 September, with the result announced on the 5th.

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Read the most recent article written by Alain Tolhurst - Tory Focus On Immigration Has Little Appeal For Voters Moving To Labour