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Tory manifesto: Rishi Sunak slammed for 'arbitrary, untenable and cruel' immigration pledges

With the launch of the Conservatives' manifesto, Sunak has promised to process all asylum claims within six months. Here's what experts think

Rishi Sunak at the Conservative 2024 election manifesto launch

Sunak said he believes in the need for a deterrent against illegal migration. Image: Edward Massey/CCHQ/Flickr

Rishi Sunak’s manifesto promise to halve migration has been slammed as “arbitrary, untenable and cruel” by experts as the Conservatives unveiled the immigration plans at the heart of their election strategy.

The prime minister has said that, if his government is re-elected, parliament will vote each year on a legally-binding cap on migration.

All asylum claims will be processed in six months and the use of hotels ended, the newly-released manifesto promised, while automatically raising the £38,700 threshold for skilled workers and family visas in line with inflation.

“Saying that ‘migration will be halved’ is arbitrary, untenable and cruel,” said Yasmin Halima, executive director at the Joint Centre for the Welfare of Immigrants.

“Instead, any future government should be focussing on how to fix the inefficiencies of an immigration system that leaves traumatised people in limbo, often for years, and that punishes those who come here to study or work. “

Also announced this week, the Lib Dems’ plans include giving asylum seekers the right to work after three months of waiting for a claim, and scrapping the Rwanda scheme.

In a speech at Silverstone racetrack, Sunak committed to the Rwanda plan as a deterrent and said migration has been too high in recent years.

Josephine Whitaker-Yilmaz, policy and public affairs manager at Praxis, said the manifesto policies carried on a trend of “intensifying anti-migrant rhetoric”. 

“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen in the Conservative Party manifesto is a doubling down on this theme, with the promise of yet another hike in already exorbitant visa fees to pay for more police,” said Whitaker-Yilmaz. 

“Not only would this do nothing to solve the root causes of underinvestment in our public services, it would also exacerbate the growing problem of poverty and homelessness in our communities, including amongst migrant households.”

Net migration to the UK reached 685,000 in 2023, accounted for by a rise in non-EU citizens coming to the UK, according to the Migration Observatory.

New research suggests 63% of Brits think politicians use refugees as a weapon to stoke the ‘culture wars’.

Sunak’s plans were dismissed by migration expert Zoe Gardner. “They are the last gasps of a government that has so spectacularly mismanaged the country as to make their nonsense manifesto almost irrelevant to the election debate at all,” said Gardner. “It’s almost impressive.”

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