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Rishi Sunak Won't Promise He Will Reduce Net Migration To Tens Of Thousands

The government has made it easier for the construction industry to hire workers from abroad (Alamy)

3 min read

Rishi Sunak is refusing to take up a previous Conservative party policy of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands after many failed attempts by Tory governments to deliver it.

While the government remains committed to bringing net migration to the UK down, it currently does not have a specific target.

“As seen from the legislation laid last week the priority is to first tackle illegal migration," the Prime Minister's Press Secretary said this afternoon.

“It remains the case, however,  that we now have a points based system to ensure migration works in the UK’s best interests and that we want to get overall net migration down.”

It was over a decade ago when former Conservative prime minister David Cameron said he would bring net migration below 100,000, and that pledge was maintained by his successor Theresa May. Their governments didn't come close to delivering that pledge and when ex-PM Boris Johnson entered No 10, he dropped the policy altogether.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) said on Wednesday it expected net migration to "settle" at 245,000 a year — a significant rise on its November prediction of 205,000.

This, the OBR said in its analysis accompanying Chancellor Jeremy Hunt's Budget, was driven by the resumption of international travel after the pandemic, the issuing of worker visas by the Home Office, and the creation of humanitarian routes for people fleeing Ukraine and Hong Kong.

The government has also announced as part of the Budget that it is adding five construction jobs to the Shortage Occupation List, in a bid to abate labour shortages facing that sector.

Ministers could ease immigration rules for other staff-short industries later in the year, once the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has carried out its review of gaps in the workforce.

The list, which forms a key part of the government's post-Brexit immigration policy, sets out the jobs deemed by the government to face a short supply of workers in the domestic labour market and makes it easier for employers to recruit people from abroad to do them.

Speaking to PoliticsHome on his way to Paris last week, Sunak said the key thing about the UK's post-Brexit immigration system was that it gave the government "control" over who comes to the country, following the end of the EU's free movement of people. 

“When it comes to legal migration, the big change post-Brexit is we are in control and most people will think that us being in control is the most important thing, so that we are deciding who is coming here, for what reasons and to do what," the PM said. 

Speaking at the Conservative party conference last October, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said her "ultimate aspiration" was hitting the net migration target first announced by Cameron, but did not give a specific target to for the government to hit before the next general election.

“In the 90s it was in the tens of thousands under Mrs Thatcher – net migration – and David Cameron famously said tens of thousands, no ifs no buts," she said at a fringe event.

“So that would be my ultimate aspiration but we’ve got to take it slowly and we’ve got to go incrementally. We have got to definitely substantially reduce the number of students, the number of work visas and in particular the number of dependants on those sorts of visas."

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