UK: Rishi Sunak faces Tory backlash over record immigration figures

Of note:

Rishi Sunak faces backlash from Conservative MPs after new figures showed net migration to the UK soaring to a record high, with 504,000 more people arriving in the country than departing over the past year.

“Unprecedented” global events including the lifting of Covid lockdowns, war in Ukraine and the Chinese security clampdown in Hong Kong sent immigration figures soaring.

At 1.1 million, the total number of arrivals in the 12 months to June was the highest since statistics were first gathered in 1964 and far outweighed the 560,000 departures, despite the fact that for the first time since 1991 more EU nationals left the UK than arrived.

Even after allowing for humanitarian schemes for Ukrainians and Afghans, the figures gave additional weight to the observation that Brexit has not reduced overall migration, as many supporters of the Leave campaign hoped.

Instead, the figures suggest that the result of EU withdrawal has been to alter patterns of migration to the UK, with departing Europeans replaced by nationals of countries like India, Nigeria and China who dominate the tables of work and study visas.

More than 20 Conservative MPs are believed to have signed a letter to Mr Sunak demanding action to bring overall migration numbers down.

Organised by Sir John Hayes – the chair of the Common Sense Group of traditionalist Tories and a close ally of home secretary Suella Braverman – the letter calls on ministers to get a tighter grip on the system for work and study visas, as well as clamping down on unauthorised Channel crossings by boat.

Home Office figures showed an 87 per cent increase to 381,459 in the number of work visas issued over a 12-month period, while visas to study rose by 38 per cent to 597,827. Both figures were more than double pre-Brexit levels.

Sir John said the influx of migrants was placing pressure on the UK’s environment, housing and infrastructure and “displacing” homegrown workers from jobs and training.

“The home secretary has been very open and honest and straightforward about the need for robust action to take control of our borders in relation to small boats,” he told The Independent. “There is a similar job to be done to retake control of visas, which I think are out of control now.”

The scale of immigration flew in the face of a promise in the 2019 Conservative election manifesto – endorsed by Mr Sunak since his arrival at 10 Downing Street – to get overall numbers down, said Hayes.

Responding to the ONS figures on Thursday, Ms Braverman said the record number of people arriving in the UK was “thanks to the generosity of the British people” towards Ukrainians, Afghans and Hong Kong holders of BNO (British national overseas) passports.

“The public rightly expect us to control our borders and we remain committed to reducing migration over time in line with our manifesto commitment,” said the home secretary, who in October told the Conservative conference her personal ambition was to reduce net migration below 100,000.

“My priority remains tackling the rise in dangerous and illegal crossings and stopping the abuse of our system.”

Downing Street said Mr Sunak remained committed to reducing net migration but has not set “a specific timeframe” for achieving the goal. The prime minister’s official spokesman blamed “some unprecedented and unique circumstances” for the record figures.

ONS deputy director Jay Lindop said that a significant driver in the figures was migration from non-EU countries by students, who are no longer forced to work remotely by Covid lockdowns.

An estimated 277,000 arrived in the UK over the past year, an increase from 143,000 in the year before.

The numbers also revealed a growing backlog in dealing with asylum claims, with 117,400 awaiting an initial decision, of whom almost 80,000 have been waiting more than six months.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the statistics revealed “serious problems with Conservative mismanagement of the immigration and asylum systems where they have completely failed to get a grip”.

Ministers have failed to tackle the criminal gangs organising Channel crossings and have managed to process the claims of only 2 per cent of the people arriving in small boats over the course of the last year, she said.

“Work visas have also substantially increased as a result of major skills shortages in the UK – yet the Conservatives are not taking any serious action to address skills shortages here at home,” said Ms Cooper.

Maria Stephens, head of campaigns at charity Refugee Action, said that the “snowballing delays in processing asylum claims are destroying lives”.

And Amnesty International called for a “complete overhaul” of the asylum and immigration system, saying that the government should provide safe routes for people seeking to come to Britain.

The organisation’s refugee and migrant rights director, Steve Valdez-Symonds, said: “These figures show the UK’s system for processing asylum claims remains in complete disarray.”

But leading Tory Brexiteer Peter Bone defended the government’s record, telling The Independent: “The fact that we are taking in people from Hong Kong, from Afghanistan and especially from Ukraine is the right thing to do.

“The point is that we are controlling our borders and we are making the decisions, not the EU. Imagine what the figures would have been if we still had free movement of people. That is what Brexit was about – it was never about having no immigration.”

“Student numbers may be rising, but most of them will go back to their home countries. The government’s priority must be stopping the illegal migration by boat across the Channel.”

Source: Rishi Sunak faces Tory backlash over record immigration figures

ICYMI: Home Office reclassifies modern slavery as illegal immigration issue

Despite all the chaos in UK politics, the UK government still has time for further policy errors:

The Home Office has taken the modern slavery brief away from the minister responsible for safeguarding and classed it as an “illegal immigration and asylum” issue, updated online ministerial profiles show.

The move is seen as a clear sign that the department is doubling down on Suella Braverman’s suggestion that people are “gaming” the modern slavery system and that victims of the crime are no longer being prioritised.

The previous safeguarding minister, Rachel Maclean, had modern slavery on her official list of ministerial responsibilities but her successor, Mims Davies, has no mention of the crime on her list. Instead, modern slavery is listed at the bottom of the “illegal immigration and asylum” brief of immigration minister Tom Pursglove.

Under Theresa May, the government pledged to be world leaders in combating modern slavery but Braverman said last week that trafficking claims from “people gaming the system” were “derailing the UK’s policy on illegal migration”.

The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said: “The largest single group of modern slavery victims under the referral system last year were British children – including those who were exploited through county lines

“The evidence shows the majority of exploitation takes place in the UK rather than across borders.

“The government should be treating this as an enforcement and safeguarding issue and taking stronger action against the crime of modern slavery wherever it takes place.”

Charities working with victims say characterising the crime as an illegal immigration issue is dangerous. More than a quarter of all people identified as potential modern slavery victims are British, according to official statistics.

Olivia Field, head of policy at the British Red Cross, said: “Modern slavery is a crime that can impact people no matter where they are from or where they are in the world.

“From our work supporting people who have been through horrific experiences including sexual exploitation and human trafficking, we know there are urgent improvements needed to better protect and support survivors.

“So it doesn’t become any harder for people to get the help they need, we would urge the lens on tackling modern slavery to be a safeguarding one focused on protecting people impacted by this crime, as opposed to being treated as an immigration issue.”

Despite Braverman’s claims of people “gaming” the system, 97% of all modern slavery referrals concluded in the first half of this year were confirmed as genuine by the authorities.

The home secretary’s comments were contradicted by the chief executive of the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, Elysia McCaffrey, who said: “We don’t see people gaming the system … What we see is vulnerable people who are being exploited by opportunists and criminals.”

Kate Roberts, head of policy at Focus on Labour Exploitation, said: “Modern Slavery is a serious crime which is carried out against individuals and to see it as an immigration matter is wrong and is risky.

“Preventing and addressing modern slavery should take a person centred approach – starting with safeguarding and ensuring the rights of potential victims. While restricted or insecure immigration status can be abused by exploiters who use immigration detention as a threat against seeking help from the authorities, this is only one of many tools traffickers use, as evidenced by the fact that many British people are victims of trafficking.”

In another sign that the government is no longer prioritising tackling the crime, there has been no independent anti-slavery commissioner in post since Sara Thornton left in April, despite it being a legal requirement since the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are committed to tackling the heinous crime of modern slavery and in the UK we have a world-leading response. However, it is clear people are abusing our system when they have no right to be here, in order to frustrate their removal.”

Source: Home Office reclassifies modern slavery as illegal immigration issue

UK Home secretary pledges to crack down on ‘unexamined drive’ towards multicultural Britain

Trying to change the channel after a disastrous mini-budget? Even more hardline that previous home secretaries. But again, a reminder that visible minorities and immigrants have diverse views:

In a sweeping speech which pledged to regain control of Britain’s borders and fight back against left-driven “identity politics”, Suella Braverman also said police in England will be given “all the powers necessary” to stop guerilla demonstrations and jail participants – and added that officers should never “take the knee” – a symbolic gesture against racism – or take part in any protests themselves.

Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference, Ms Braverman said she would create legislation to allow the government to send back refugees who crossed the Channel on small boats, or arrived in the UK helped by people smugglers, without giving them a chance to apply for asylum.

She told a fringe event at the conferrence earlier that it would be “her dream” to see a newspaper front page with a photo of a plane taking off to Rwanda with asylum seekers on board.

Unveiled earlier this year to heavy criticism, the scheme would send refugees who arrive in the UK and are considered “inadmissible” – ie have not arrived on a government-sanctioned scheme – to the African country, where they will stay if their application is granted.

“We cannot allow a foreign court to undermine the sovereignty of our borders,” she said, referring to a last-minute move by the European Court of Human Rights to stop the first plane of refugees from taking off in June. “We need to find a way to make the Rwanda scheme work.”

She said Britain needs to “cut down on the numbers” of migrants in the country, saying the current system was not “meeting the needs of our economy”.

“We mustn’t forget how to do things for ourselves,” she said. “There is absolutely no reason why we can’t train up enough of our own HGV drivers or fruit pickers. The way we build a high skilled high wage economy is by encouraging businesses to invest in capital and domestic labour not relying wholly on low skilled foreign workers.

She insisted that it was not “racist”, or “xenophobic or bigoted” to tackle immigration.

“This is the best place on earth to come and live,” she said, adding that her own parents had emigrated to the UK from Kenya and Mauritius. “But I feel that we are losing sight of the core values and the culture that made it so. The unexamined drive towards multiculturalism as an end in itself, combined with the corrosive aspects of identity politics, has led us astray.”

Ms Braverman also warned that the “left are attacking our profound elemental values”, to replace them with the “poison of identity politics”.

“When this poison seeps into the public sphere, it distracts our public servants from doing their real job,” she said. “And that’s why it’s not only wrong for the police to take the knee. It is wrong for them to join in with political demonstrations. It is wrong for biologically male police officers to strip search female suspects. And it’s not just that pandering to identity politics is a huge waste of time. They need to stick to catching the bad guys.”

Source: Home secretary pledges to crack down on ‘unexamined drive’ towards multicultural Britain