Some Conservative MPs have expressed anger after official statistics showed net migration for a calendar year at a record high.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published data this morning showing that net migration stood at 606,000 in the year ending December 2022.
The figure came despite a Tory 2019 manifesto commitment to “bring overall numbers down”.
Net migration is the annual number of people arriving in the UK when both immigration and emigration are taken into account.
Following the update, immigration minister Robert Jenrick responded to an urgent question in the House of Commons in which he said the government remained committed to reducing migration to “sustainable levels”.
He told MPs: “That is a solemn promise we made to the British public in our manifesto, and we are unwavering in our determination to deliver it.”
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Mr Jenrick pointed to recent curbs on international students bringing family to the UK as a means to bring overall numbers down.
But Labour attacked the government for lacking a plan on migration.
The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, also criticised Suella Braverman for not appearing in parliament to answer questions on the issue.
A number of Tory MPs also lined up in the Commons to criticise the government’s approach.
Conservative former minister Sir Edward Leigh told the Commons: “Some people in the Treasury seem to think a good way to grow the economy is to fill the country up with more and more people, but this is bad for productivity and bad for British workers who are being undercut by mass migration from all over the world.
“Why is it that under the points-based system we allow people in earning only £26,000 a year but the median UK salary is £33,000 a year?
“Isn’t an obvious solution to this to insist that everybody who comes in is skilled and earns the median UK salary median and then we can boost productivity and get British people back to work?”
The Conservative MP for Cleethorpes, Martin Vickers, said while the “anger and frustration” of his constituents had been on illegal migration, “that anger and frustration will grow when they consider these legal migration figures”.
“We’re creating, roughly speaking, eight new parliamentary constituencies with this number and if that continues it’s clearly unsustainable,” he said.
Mr Jenrick was also criticised by former levelling up minister Simon Clarke, who tweeted that the immigration figures were “too high”.
“There is no popular mandate at all for this level of immigration to the UK,” he wrote.
Brendan Clarke-Smith, the Tory MP for Bassetlaw, also tweeted: “Need to see these numbers cut drastically going forwards.”
The ONS figures showed that total long-term immigration was estimated at around 1.2 million in 2022, while emigration was 557,000.
Most people arriving in the UK last year were non-EU nationals (925,000), followed by EU (151,000) and British (88,000), the ONS said.
However, the ONS added that despite the rise in immigration last year, its long-term international migration estimates “suggest a slowing in growth over the most recent quarters”.
Separate statistics from the Home Office also revealed that the backlog of asylum cases in the UK has hit a new record high.
A total of 172,758 people were waiting for an initial decision on an asylum application in the UK at the end of March 2023, up 57% compared to the end of March 2022, and the highest figure since current records began in 2010.
The number of people waiting more than six months for an initial decision stood at 128,812 at the end of March, up 76% year on year from 73,207 – another record high.
Mr Jenrick suggested that speeding up decisions could, in fact, act as a pull factor for people coming to the UK, saying it was “not correct” that processing illegal migrants’ claims faster would reduce arrivals and that “in all likelihood it’ll lead to an increase”.
But the immigration minister appeared to be at odds with Rishi Sunak over the delays.
Asked about the comments, Downing Street said tackling the asylum backlog is “the right approach”.
The prime minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “What we are focusing on is reducing the numbers, tackling that backlog is the right approach.”
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Downing Street also declined to apologise for failing on delivering the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto pledge to bring overall net migration numbers down after the introduction of post-Brexit border controls.
Asked whether the prime minister would like to apologise, his official spokesman told reporters: “We are working to bring those numbers down. We’ve set out a significant package to do that just this week as well as all the work that goes alongside stopping the boats.
“It’s also important to understand what sits beneath some of those numbers – 114,000 Ukrainians coming over for example, 52,000 British nationals from Hong Kong. We think that is something the public can be rightly proud of.
“At the same time, we need to strike the right balance about supporting our economy with getting those numbers down, so we recognise that number’s up too high.”