Conservative MPs urge Rishi Sunak to halve number of visas for foreign workers

The New Conservatives want to see work rights for foreign students and migrants curbed

A boat carrying about 50 migrants illegally crosses the English Channel en route to Britain. Getty
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A group of Tory MPs have published a manifesto urging Rishi Sunak to cut the number of visas awarded to foreign workers by half.

The New Conservatives unveiled five pledges they want to see the government commit to as the party’s annual conference opened.

The group made up of 25 Tory MPs elected in 2017 and 2019 wants to see immigration reduced by halving the number of visas awarded to migrant workers, foreign students and their families.

They include Devizes MP Danny Kruger, Ipswich MP Tom Hunt and Miriam Cates, the MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge.

The group has the support of senior members of the party, including deputy Tory chairman Lee Anderson.

Priti Patel and Jacob Rees-Mogg have also backed the manifesto put together by MPs hoping to shape the party’s policy before the next general election, expected next year.

Miriam Cates, in a promotional video published on social media, said the group was “launching a movement to make sure those 2019 voters give us the support we need to win again next time”.

The New Conservatives said their five demands, designed to mirror the Prime Minister’s own five pledges to voters ahead of the next general election, “ought to make up the backbone of the next Conservative Party manifesto”.

The package will pile further pressure on the Prime Minister, who arrived at the Manchester gathering on Sunday for his first conference as Tory leader.

At the start of the year, he promised to “stop the boats” carrying illegal migrants across the Channel.

While the numbers are down on last year, more than 24,000 have managed to cross the busy shipping lanes after setting off from northern France so far this year.

The publication of the report, titled The New Conservatives’ Plan To Cut Migration, came after the Office for National Statistics said legal net migration stood at 606,000 last year.

Speaking at the report’s launch event in Westminster, Ms Cates said that without reforms, “we’re not going to stop the addiction to cheap labour”.

The Sunak administration has no plans to cut the number of visas handed out to migrant workers, Downing Street said.

Asked by The National about New Conservatives’ call for the number to be halved, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: “I am not aware of any plans to do so.”

“We have the ability to decide who we want to come here through visa routes and that’s the approach we’ll continue to take,” he continued. “The focus is on tackling illegal immigration currently.”

The New Conservatives, made up of politicians elected in 2019, want to see a new “British framework” for rights and freedoms introduced to replace the current set of laws, which enshrine the freedoms in the ECHR.

These include banning “gender ideology” from being taught in schools, slashing taxes, leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and stopping student loans for those who fail A-levels.

More than half (54 per cent) of the British public support cutting ties with the ECHR, a new poll for the New Conservatives found. Only 27 per cent of the 2,000 adults interviewed said they wanted things to remain as they are.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has kept the door open to possibly leaving the ECHR, with Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch also saying that withdrawing should remain an option as Mr Sunak looks to deliver on his pledge stop illegal immigration.

The first deportation flight to Rwanda last year was halted following intervention by the European Court of Human Rights, which interprets the convention.

The government policy of sending migrants that arrive in Britain without authorisation to Rwanda or back to their country of origin is currently held up in the courts.

The New Conservatives announced their arrival in July with a report calling for ministers to close temporary visa schemes for care workers and cap the number of refugees resettling in the UK at 20,000.

They also want to see the student loan system altered.

Any student who fails their A-level exams should not be allowed to access taxpayer-funded loans to attend university, they said, while more cash should be funnelled into apprenticeship programmes.

Taxes should be cut for families, small businesses and entrepreneurs, they said.

Parents should have the right to oversee the content of sex education being taught in schools, the group of MPs said.

A report in March by right-leaning think tank Policy Exchange said schools were “increasingly becoming influenced by gender ideology”, claiming single-sex spaces were being compromised and that “gender identity beliefs” were being taught unchallenged in Relationships, Sex and Health Education lessons.

Mr Sunak said he was “very concerned” about the report’s findings but the new transgender guidance he promised for schools has yet to be published.

As the Conservatives trail Labour by an average of 18 points in opinion polls, the MPs say they are focused on policies that are likely to appeal to voters in Red Wall constituencies.

Many seats in the traditional Labour heartland flipped to the Conservatives in the 2019 election when Boris Johnson secured a landslide victory on his pledge to “get Brexit done”.

The policies are due to be set out at a rally on Monday on the fringes of the Tory conference in Manchester, where Mr Rees-Mogg, Ms Patel and former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith are expected to speak.

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Updated: October 02, 2023, 1:05 PM