Boris Johnson adds voice to Tory calls for action to curb migration

Former prime minister Boris Johnson has urged his successor Rishi Sunak to take action to bring down net migration (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Former prime minister Boris Johnson has urged his successor Rishi Sunak to take action to bring down net migration (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Boris Johnson has urged Rishi Sunak to take fresh action to bring down net migration, amid pressure on the Prime Minister after the latest data showed a record number of arrivals last year.

It comes amid suggestions that immigration minister Robert Jenrick, one of the Prime Minister’s close allies, has drawn up a five-point plan — said to propose cutting the number of dependants foreign workers can bring with them — to tackle the influx of people legally entering Britain.

Net migration into the UK peaked at 745,000 in the year to December 2022, which is a record high according to revised estimates published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Thursday.

The data places migration levels at three times higher than before Brexit, despite a Conservative Party 2019 manifesto pledge to bring overall numbers down.

Many MPs on the right of the party, including sacked home secretary Suella Braverman, have called on Mr Sunak to honour that commitment.

The former prime minister added his voice to those urging reform of the immigration system, as he echoed Mrs Braverman in calling for an increase in the minimum salary threshold for UK visas.

Writing in his Daily Mail column, Mr Johnson said: “You will remember that after Brexit everyone was wailing about the thought of EU workers fleeing Britain, and business was worried about shortages. So the Migration Advisory Committee put the ­minimum at only £26,000 — not much more than the living wage.”

But that figure, he said, was “way too low”.

“The minimum income for most types of migrant worker coming to the UK should now go right up to £40,000 or more — because it is the right thing for migrant workers, and for the entire British workforce.”

He added: “We have the powers to sort it out, and to change our immigration rules — which is exactly why the British people voted to take back those powers in 2016. We can do it now.”

Mr Johnson, who led the party to victory with the 2019 manifesto, only left office last year. The election-winning campaign saw the Tories pledge that “overall numbers will come down” and “we will ensure that the British people are always in control”.

Mr Sunak earlier declined to comment when asked whether he would apologise for not meeting the 2019 manifesto pledge.

“I’m very clear that the levels of migration are too high and they’ve got to come down to more sustainable levels,” he told broadcasters.

He pointed to the ONS recording that migration was “slowing” but said he recognised “we’ve got more to go” to bring down the number of entrants.

Other data released by the statistics body this week indicated that net migration for 2023, up until June, stood at 672,000.

The figures would suggest that, in total, 1.279 million more people have come to the UK than have exited the country during the past two years.

According to reports, some Cabinet ministers are keen to see a crackdown on visas for foreign workers relocating to the United Kingdom to work for the NHS or in the care sector.

Home Office minister Mr Jenrick is understood to have worked up a plan designed to appease calls from right-wing Tories for the Government to take action.

Mr Jenrick is pushing for a ban on foreign social care workers from bringing in any dependants and a cap on the total number of NHS and social care visas, the PA news agency understands.

His plan would also see the shortage occupation list scrapped, a programme that allows foreign workers to be paid 20% below the going rate in roles that suffer from a shortage of skilled workers.

Mrs Braverman, sacked earlier this month from Cabinet, called the record numbers “a slap in the face to the British public”.

Leave campaigners at the 2016 referendum said exiting the European Union would allow ministers to better control the UK’s borders.

Mr Sunak — who campaigned for Brexit — said his administration had already taken action this year by “clamping down on the number of dependants” that international students could bring with them to the UK.

“That action I took represents the single toughest measure that anyone has taken to bring down the levels of legal migration in a very long time,” he added.

“So that should give people a sense of my commitment to bringing migration down.

“And if we see further abuse of the system, of course we’re prepared to act to do more.”

Mel Stride
Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride said migration levels were ‘unacceptable’ (Victoria Jones/PA)

The Government’s migration advisory committee has already recommended the nixing of the shortage occupation list amid fears it was being used to bring cheap foreign labour into the UK.

Labour accused the Tories of a “huge failure” to control migration.

Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds told Times Radio that social care visas had risen by 156% due to ministers not putting in place higher pay arrangements or creating better career development prospects for those employed in the sector.