Michael Gove said on Tuesday that high levels of immigration into Britain were putting pressure on housing and public services and that a “cap” should be placed on the numbers.
The government’s goal of building 300,000 homes a year, which is not being met, was based on the assumption of net migration of 170,000 a yearbut the real figure is at least three times higher than that.
“Britain has always been a country that has benefited from the arrival of talented people and from people fleeing persecution,” the Leveling Up secretary told a UK National Conservatism conference in London. “But the numbers recently have been at a level where there is unavoidable pressure on housing and public services.”
The issue of high net migration has caused tensions in the cabinet with Suella Braverman, the interior minister, who told the same conference this week that the overall numbers have to come down.
The latest official data shows that net migration exceeded 500,000 in the year to June 2022. But some analysts have estimated that the new figures to be released next week for the 2022 calendar year could exceed 700,000which would more than double the pre-Brexit record.
At the same time, the government continues to miss its own housing targets by a wide margin with 216,490 new homes built in 2020-21.
Gove said the UK had to create safe routes for people fleeing persecution and accept foreign workers with certain skills to fill key positions, but said “beyond that, there is a limit”.
Braverman is expected to announce shortly a plan to prevent postgraduate students on year-long master’s courses from bringing their relatives to Britain. Other senior cabinet ministers, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Gillian Keegan, education secretary, oppose the move, given the importance of international students to economics.
Gove said he was completely “in disagreement” with those who believed that after 13 years in power “the time has come to do without the conservatives.” The party has always adapted “to changing circumstances,” he added.
Many Conservative MPs believe that if the government can show progress on issues such as reducing immigration, it would improve the party’s poll standing. The latest Savanta data gave Labor a 17-point lead over the Tories.
Downing Street stressed on Tuesday that the government “remains committed to reducing net migration”, adding that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak would raise the “challenge” on illegal migration to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, during his attendance in Iceland at the summit of the Council of Europe, the continent’s main human rights body.
Speaking at the conference on Tuesday, Sir John Hayes, an ally of the Home Secretary, warned that a “widening gulf” was emerging “between the people of Great Britain and the elite who profess to serve them.”
He called for the creation of an immigration system “driven not by the demands of amoral big business but in tune with the will of the people.”
Another senior Tory denied suggestions that the focus on migration by Braverman and other MPs from the party’s right wing was an attempt to undermine Sunak after disastrous local election results.
“There is no mood for another leader,” he said. “But the reality is that with migration numbers that big, it has an impact on housing and education – we promised to act on migration in the manifesto and now we must act on it.”
Meanwhile, Sunak has come under renewed pressure over his government’s fiscal policy after an analysis by think tank Instituto de Estudios Fiscales published on Tuesday. warned that by 2027-28, one in seven adults will pay 40 percent tax.
“It is essential that we go to the next elections showing that we have significantly reduced taxes for workers, teachers, doctors, etc.,” said a former minister.