Rishi Sunak boasted about the UK’s ‘competitive’ visa regime in a speech to business leaders today as Tory tensions over immigration rage.
The PM highlighted the generous arrangements for entrepreneurs and ‘high potential’ individuals as he addressed an investment conference in London.
But Mr Sunak is struggling to contain Conservative infighting after Suella Braverman’s allies claimed Rishi Sunak agreed to hike the minimum salary for work visas as part of a leadership deal.
Raising the salary threshold from £26,000 to £40,000 was said to have been among the terms of a pact that saw the former Home Secretary stand aside last year.
The Conservative right are heaping pressure on the premier to take tough action after figures showed net migration had reached a staggering new record of 745,000.
Asked about the row by journalists as he arrived at the conference, Mr Sunak stressed that the most recent figures showed levels easing slightly.
He said the government had already cracked down on students bringing dependants, merely saying he would look at whether more action is needed.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick is believed to be urging a five-point plan including many of the measures that were backed by Ms Braverman.
Rishi Sunak, pictured at an investment conference in London today, is struggling to contain Cabinet tensions over migration poliicy
Ms Braverman slammed the Prime Minister in an open letter amid her departure from Cabinet
In a round of interviews this morning, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch said the salary threshold should rise and she will be ‘pushing for the strongest measures possible’
Figures last week showed net long-term migration reached a new record of 745,000 in 2022
Migrants from outside the EU have been driving inflows for the past few years
In a round of interviews, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch said the salary threshold should rise and she will be ‘pushing for the strongest measures possible’.
‘I think we should do whatever it takes to make sure we can control and secure our borders,’ she told BBC Radio 4’s Today.
However, current Home Secretary James Cleverly has seemed to strike a significantly softer tone since the migration figures. He has also stoked a separate Tory spat by playing down the importance of the Rwanda deal in tackling Channel boats.
The PM is alleged to have agreed a four-point plan to deal tackle migration with Mrs Braverman, according to documents seen by the Telegraph.
As part of this, Mr Sunak is said to have pledged to raise the minimum salary threshold required for a foreign skilled worker visa from £26,000 to £40,000.
Among other parts of the pact were plans to remove graduate visas, bring down the number of dependants legal migrants can take with them and prioritise applicants to Russell Group universities when looking at student visa applications.
Ms Braverman slammed the Prime Minister in an open letter amid her departure from Cabinet earlier this month for what she called his failure to honour the promises he made to her.
Speaking at the Global Investment Summit at Hampton Court Palace this morning, Mr Sunak said: ‘I’m very clear that the levels of net migration are too high. They need to come down to more sustainable levels.
‘It is encouraging that the Office for National Statistics last week said the numbers are slowing but we need to do more.
‘I have already taken action to tighten the number of dependants that students can bring when they come to study here.’
He added: ‘As we need to do more, we’ll look at that and where there are abuses of the system we will of course act.
‘The levels do need to come down, they are too high.’
Mr Sunak said of the high-skilled visa route: ‘We don’t have the monopoly on talent in this country and we recognise that nearly half of our most innovative companies have an immigrant founder.
‘So if you are an innovator, an entrepreneur, a researcher, you should know that the most competitive visa regime for highly skilled international talent is right here in the UK.’
Speaking to Times Radio earlier, Housing Secretary Michael Gove conceded the UK does not have the number of homes to match the demand from migrants.
‘In fact, I think actually the situation is, if anything, worse than you depict,’ he said.
‘It is the case that the migratory flows put more pressure on housing, but we haven’t built enough homes overall for generations.
‘This Government is going to hit its target of a million new homes in this Parliament, but we do need to go further. And earlier this year, I outlined a long-term plan for housing, which will allow us to build more homes, particularly making effective use of brownfield land.’
Meanwhile, Mr Cleverly is facing fresh questions about his commitment to the Government’s Rwanda scheme amid claims he ‘repeatedly blocked’ efforts to put a back-up plan in place.
Alternative schemes including deals with a number of other African countries and British Overseas Territories – such as Ascension Island – were thwarted by Mr Cleverly in his previous job as Foreign Secretary, Tory sources said.
One highly placed source in the party said Mr Cleverly ‘has the wrong mindset for the job’ – just two weeks after he was parachuted in to replace sacked Suella Braverman.
The claim, denied by Mr Cleverly, comes amid growing Cabinet tensions over how to keep the Rwanda scheme alive after the Supreme Court blocked it this month.
Government sources had suggested a new treaty with Rwanda would be published last week, backed up by ’emergency legislation’ to prevent further court challenges.
However, it is now not likely to appear before next week at the earliest, amid Cabinet wrangling over how far to go in exempting the policy from human rights laws.
Mr Sunak defended himself in an interview with the Mail on Sunday at the weekend against Ms Braverman claims that he had reneged on a ‘deal’ to implement key policies.
‘Of course you have conversations with people when you are in a leadership election and not just Suella,’ Mr Sunak said.
Mr Sunak asked voters to be patient, pledging that he is committed to delivering more sustainable levels of migration.
He said: ‘There is obviously a lot more to do and that’s why we need to take action. I announced previously significant tightening up on the number of dependants that students can bring, which has seen a very striking rise over the past year or two.
‘This represents the single biggest measure of restriction on legal migration that anyone’s announced in years. That should give people a sense of my determination to bring these numbers down.
‘As we go over them, as we see other areas of abuse, we won’t hesitate to take action and clamp down.’ Despite reports of Cabinet splits over his efforts to use new legislation to save his deal to send illegal migrants to Rwanda, the Prime Minister said it should be remembered that there has been a fall in the number of small boats migrants arriving across the Channel.
Mr Cleverly voiced his opposition to quitting the ECHR at the weekend, telling The Times the Rwanda scheme was ‘not the be all and end all’ of the Government’s efforts to tackle the Channel migrant crisis.
Treasury minister Laura Trott yesterday appeared to rebuke Mr Cleverly, saying that the Rwanda plan was ‘central’ to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s bid to deter illegal migrants from crossing the Channel – although she played down claims of a Cabinet split.
The Mail understands that proposals to secure Rwanda-style deals with a number of other African countries had to be abandoned after Mr Cleverly objected.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick is believed to be urging a five-point plan including many of the measures that were backed by Ms Braverman
‘There were other African countries Cleverly would not get into negotiations with, and then threw obstacles in the way,’ a Conservative source said.
‘He was refusing to look at it properly until the legal ruling on Rwanda had come back.
‘The Foreign Office put forward a couple of South American countries as possible contenders – without actually speaking to those nations properly about it – but they were completely unsuitable.’
Mr Cleverly also thwarted proposals to set up asylum processing centres on Ascension Island, Saint Helena or the Falkland Islands, Tory sources said.
Mr Cleverly’s official spokesman insisted the claim was ‘at odds with reality’.
‘Countries identified were contacted with the full intention to see if they would meet with UK officials,’ the spokesman said.