UK

Cleverly says UK’s goodwill towards migrants ‘not a bottomless font’

The Home Secretary argued Western powers must help developing nations avoid ‘haemorrhaging’ people.

Home Secretary James Cleverly delivers a speech at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York
James Cleverly Home Secretary James Cleverly delivers a speech at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

James Cleverly has said the UK’s goodwill towards migrants “is not a bottomless font” as he argued wealthy nations must help developing ones avoid “haemorrhaging” people.

In a major speech in New York on Tuesday, the Home Secretary said Western powers must help would-be migrants to “stay and thrive at home” in order to stem the international migration crisis.

Answering questions afterwards, he said there could be “large-scale” migration to Europe from Africa, the Indian sub-continent and Southeast Asia as they become richer and people who were previously too poor to consider relocation acquire the financial means to do so.

“As these parts of the world become wealthier, there may be an initial but potentially temporary pressure for large-scale human movement to the high-GDP-per-capita countries,” the Cabinet minister said.

He argued that Western powers should support those countries in ensuring they are “safe and prosperous” to prevent an outflow of people and a “devastating” talent drain.

“If you’re a country with great aspiration for your future, but what you’re synonymous for is just people haemorrhaging from your country, that contradicts your message,” he said.

Home Secretary James Cleverly (right) holds a Q&A with American internet entrepreneur, venture capitalist, podcaster, author and LinkedIn co-founder, Reid Hoffman at Microsoft offices in San Francisco
James Cleverly visit to US Home Secretary James Cleverly (right) holds a Q&A with American internet entrepreneur, venture capitalist, podcaster, author and LinkedIn co-founder, Reid Hoffman at Microsoft offices in San Francisco (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Cleverly also said “I don’t think we can make the same kind of offer” to the poor and dispossessed of the world as when “people coming to the US … would come one steamboat at a time”.

When the numbers are “relatively modest, there is really good public buy-in” to welcoming migrants, he said.

“But get it wrong, you lose that goodwill. You can burn through that goodwill.

“We all have it. But it is not a bottomless font and we need to be realistic about that.”

He said the “modern evolution of our generous humane offer” to the world’s dispossessed “is to help their countries be more stable and less poor”.

The Home Secretary noted that while the UK has traditionally been “very good” at integrating new arrivals, “that’s under real pressure at the moment”.

“It’s proving harder than it has been in the past,” he said.

Home Secretary James Cleverly (left) meets with Clint Smith, chief legal officer of the social media platform Discord in San Francisco
James Cleverly visit to US Home Secretary James Cleverly (left) meets with Clint Smith, chief legal officer of the social media platform Discord in San Francisco (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

In his speech at the Carnegie Council for Ethics on International Affairs, Mr Cleverly warned that far-right parties get elected when mainstream politicians “hide from” problems associated with immigration.

As some in the Conservative Party feel threatened from the right by Reform UK ahead of a general election, the Braintree MP spoke of meeting someone representing “a neo-fascist political party” when he worked on the London Assembly.

“He was elected in large part because immigration in East London in particular had been badly mishandled and mainstream politicians had largely ducked the issues about the community tension that immigration had caused.

“That’s what happens, that’s the potential risk if we get this issue wrong.”

He told his international audience that the UK’s Rwanda policy, which will see migrants arriving in Britain after crossing the Channel in small boats deported to the east African country, was an “innovative way of dealing with illegal migration”.

Speaking to the PA news agency afterwards, Mr Cleverly said the scheme “remains a really important part of what has always been a multi-strand approach to immigration”.

While admitting the plan was not “easy” and “hasn’t been quick”, he insisted the Government was still “committed” to seeing it implemented.

Mr Cleverly said in his address that receiving countries should not always rely on immigration to plug gaps in their labour markets and that “there is something rather distasteful, perhaps grubby even, about a country concluding that there are certain jobs are beneath its own citizens and should be left exclusively to be done by immigrants”.

But, he said, “in a very polarised debate, it is important that we leave space for nuance, because of course some countries urgently need an injection of labour and skills”.

Ex-home secretary Suella Braverman drew criticism for likening the arrival of asylum seekers on small boats to an ‘invasion on our southern coast’
Suella Braverman Ex-home secretary Suella Braverman drew criticism for likening the arrival of asylum seekers on small boats to an ‘invasion on our southern coast’

It was Mr Cleverly’s first major speech setting out his own views on immigration since he replaced Suella Braverman as Home Secretary in November.

His words marked a shift in tone since Mrs Braverman, a standard bearer of the Tory right, warned the UK was facing a “hurricane” of mass migration.

The Home Secretary’s comments came as a debate rages in the Conservative Party about the best way of tackling both legal net migration, which saw a record high of 745,000 incomers in 2022 on the Tories’ watch — and authorised migration.

The Prime Minister has made stopping the boats one of his top priorities ahead of an election expected later this year.

Helen Dempster, policy fellow at the Centre for Global Development, said: “I wholeheartedly agree with minister Cleverly that the UK should increase their aid to reduce the drivers of irregular migration —but over the last four years, he and his colleagues have consistently done the opposite, with successive rounds of hasty cuts which have undermined progress and made the UK a laughing stock on the world stage.”