More bad news for the govt as ’embarrassed’ backbenchers demand action on net migration


It is more bad news for the government on migration.

There are lots of headline figures coming out from the Office for National Statistics, but the most important one is this: net migration to the UK in the year to December 2022 has been revised up to 745,000.

That is a huge number: higher than previously thought and a new record.

Politics news latest: Number 10 reacts to latest net migration figures as Tory MPs call for action

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In the 2019 manifesto, the Conservatives pledged to “bring overall numbers down”. Boris Johnson said he would bring annual net migration below 250,000 by the next election.

Rishi Sunak has tried to move away from specific targets – but he has put immigration, in particular illegal migration, at the heart of his pitch to the country.

Whatever complexities behind the rising figures – the most up-to-date provisional figure for the year to June 2023 is 672,000 (fewer than 745,000, but that could yet be revised up) – expect a clamour from the right of the Conservative Party.

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Jonathan Gullis says the figures are “completely unacceptable” and the government needs to “get these numbers down quickly”.

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg said he was “embarrassed” by the “absolutely extraordinary” figures.

Britain's Home Secretary James Cleverly looks on outside Downing Street, in London, Britain, November 22, 2023. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
James Cleverly

In a statement, the New Conservatives group of right-wing MPs said: “Today we see the result of these conscious decisions by the government … the word ‘existential’ has been used a lot in recent days but this really is ‘do or die’ for our party.”

It’s unclear the extent of support this group really has, but the home secretary’s response has galvanised some on the right of the party.

James Cleverly said: “The figure is not showing a significant increase from last year’s figures and is largely in line with our own immigration statistics.”

One MP tells me that sentence has “bewildered” them.

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However, we do expect to hear more from the Home Office on measures to bring down net migration as early as next week.

This could include a crackdown on abuses in the visa system, increasing salary thresholds and looking again at the shortage occupation scheme. There could also be changes to the rules on bringing families over on working visas.

I understand the immigration minister Robert Jenrick has previously pushed for an overall cap to net migration.

However, the view among some in government is that a balance needs to be struck when it comes to economic concerns over workforce shortages.

The new home secretary has been in the job just over a week, as he grapples with inherited figures, he faces questions today from the opposition benches and his own party about net migration.

He has kept a low profile, for now.

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