Sunak moves to curb migration citing strain on UK services
The British prime minister will defend his efforts to curb migration, saying the UK government is struggling to cope with the number of arrivals.
Rishi Sunak will appear at an event in Kent in southern England on Monday to draw attention to progress over the last six months, notably a 50% increase on raids for those working illegally and 700 new staff to track people crossing the English Channel in small boats.
Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said the government will deploy barges and unused army bases to house people seeking asylum and tell young men four people will have to share one room.
The measures are aimed at making Britain a less-attractive destination to people arriving through informal routes. Ministers are concerned a record 606,000 more people moved to Britain than departed last year despite a promise to reduce immigration.
“We also can’t allow the UK to be perceived to be a soft touch,” Jenrick said on BBC television’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg show. “It’s placing serious pressure on public services and our ability to successfully integrate people into the country.”
Immigration has become a lightning rod for the right wing of the Conservative Party after a wave of migrants arrived in small boats this spring and inflows hit a record.
Sunak has backed away from a manifesto promise to cut migration, but ministers are working on measures to deport 3,000 people a month deemed to have entered the UK though means they deem are illegal. While the vast majority of immigrants arrive legally with visas, it’s the informal routes and especially asylum that are the prime focus.
The Labour opposition has promised to cut immigration levels and says the Conservatives are to blame for letting numbers get out of control. The issue has added to friction with business lobby groups, which are urging a relaxing of the rules to allow in workers needed to fill vacant jobs and alleviate upward pressures on wages.
“We want businesses to be in the first instance investing in British workers and technology and automation that drives productivity, not just reaching for the easy lever of foreign labor,” Jenrick told the BBC.
Sunak’s office said on Sunday that the prime minister will say the current measures are working but “there is more to be done”. The government already has signed deals with France and Albania aimed at limiting flows and passed legislation in the House of Commons that ensures that “if you come here illegally, you will be detained and swiftly removed”, Downing Street said in a statement released on Sunday.
Jenrick said the asylum system needs “fundamental” reform because it’s “riddled with abuse”, notably the government paying too much money to hotel operators for housing people.
The Illegal Migration Bill, due before the House of Lords on Wednesday, will let officials detain migrants who arrive through informal channels. The government wants to return many of them home — or to Rwanda.
“That will create the deterrent we desperately need,” Jenrick said. “It will break the business model of the people smuggling gangs, and it will stop the system from coming under intolerable pressure like it is today.”
The House of Commons on Wednesday is set to approve a bill that will confirm how and when immigrants are considered settled in the UK for citizenship purposes.
Jenrick said it’s reasonable to ask asylum seekers to share rooms, brushing aside concerns of a group that refused to enter a hotel in Pimlico, where the Home Office had asked them to sleep “four people per room”.
The leader of Westminster City Council expressed “deep concern” that some 40 refugees were placed in the borough last week “without appropriate accommodation or support available”, the Press Association reported.
“We had offered them a safe bed with board and lodgings in a good-quality hotel in central London,” Jenrick said on the BBC. “Yes, some of them had to share with other people. These are single adult males, I don’t think that’s unreasonable.”
He said the government wants to reduce the cost to taxpayers of housing asylum seekers, saying that putting them in hotels drains “valuable assets for the local business community”. DM