Cabinet fall-out

Tory immigration split fuels separatist claims

Rishi Sunak addressing the Farm to Fork Summit in Downing Street

Tory in-fighting over immigration policy is casting a shadow over economic recovery and creating a new platform for Scottish separatists.

The UK Cabinet is split over how to tackle legal and illegal immigration with Home Secretary Suella Braverman failing to win support from at least three ministers for her attempts to reduce the overall number entering the country.

Her supporters say allowing tens of thousands of low-paid workers into the UK undermines attempts to train domestic workers and upskill the labour force.

The Prime Minister’s focus is on controlling the ‘small boats’ bringing in illegal immigrants while increasing the quota of seasonal workers to help on farms.

Neither approach is satisfying those who say the economy continues to suffer from shortages of labour.

Professor Wendy Alexander, a former Labour enterprise minister in the Scottish parliament, has joined and others such as the NFU Scotland to criticise the UK government’s immigration stance. 

The NFU Scotland’s horticulture chair Iain Brown said: “The Home Office has consistently failed to understand the challenges that the industry faces around sourcing labour'”. He said the industry needs the government to move away from “anti-migration politics and rhetoric.”

SNP MSP Jim Fairlie added: “From our farms to our universities, immigration is a vital part of Scotland’s success but both the Tories and Labour are happy to ignore this reality as they try to outdo each other with pro Brexit, anti immigration policies.”

Ms Braverman used a speech to the National Conservatism conference on Monday to urge the government to bring numbers down before the next election to prevent Britain becoming reliant on foreign labour and ease the pressure on housing, education, health and other public services.

Net migration hit a record 504,000 last year and official data to be published next week is expected to show the numbers have increased to between 700,000 and one million.

Ms Braverman has made a number of suggestions, from increasing the minimum salaries for companies employing skilled workers, to reducing the time foreign students can stay in the country after their course.

Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, and Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, are said to be among ministers who have failed to back Ms Braverman’s plans. Ms Keegan is said to believe that putting time limits on students would make them less likely to come to Britain, depriving universities of income and employers of top talent.

Mr Hunt is said to back efforts to reduce overall immigration but only when the UK labour market is capable of filling vacancies. 

In December, the UK government lifted the cap on seasonal workers from 30,000 to 45,000 and Mr Sunak, who is trying to find a balance, has announced that the cap will be extended.

In the budget in March, Mr Hunt announced that five construction roles would be added to the shortage occupation list.


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