on September 27, 2022
Read Time: 7 Minutes
On Monday 5th September, there was finally an outcome to the seemingly interminable Conservative Party leadership race. Liz Truss was confirmed as winner of the contest to succeed Boris Johnson as leader of the party and as UK Prime Minister, as she received 81,316 votes in a ballot of party members, compared to 60,399 for her last remaining challenger, Rishi Sunak.
Within a week, the UK had seen one of the most dramatic sequences of events in its recent history, including Ms Truss’s formal appointment to the role of Prime Minister by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who passed away days later. Between these two events, the new occupant of Number 10 announced news of an energy-bill support plan for households and businesses.
Immigration, then, has not been one of the primary topics of discussion in the last few days, as the country has speculated on what a Liz Truss premiership will look like. It was, however, certainly a focus of the preceding leadership contest, as our specialists in immigration law touched upon in our previous assessment of the policy stances of the final two candidates. Furthermore, the new Prime Minister’s approach to immigration will undoubtedly shape much of her tenure in the job.
So, now that Ms Truss is confirmed in post, what can we expect from her on immigration in the months and years ahead? We decided to take a closer look.
In her first speech as Prime Minister in front of the iconic black door of 10 Downing Street, Ms Truss did not make direct reference to immigration policy.
Instead, in her declaration that “now is the time to tackle the issues that are holding Britain back”, she cited a need to “build roads, homes and broadband faster”, to attract “more investment and great jobs in every town and city across our country”, and to “reduce the burden on families and help people get on in life.”
But as we set out in our earlier blog post on the Conservative Party leadership race, Ms Truss was more explicit on the subject of immigration when putting forward her candidacy.
In an interview with The Mail on Sunday in late July, Ms Truss burnished her credentials as an immigration hardliner for the audience of readers of the conservative newspaper. Her stated pledges at this time included giving a 20% boost to the numbers of frontline border staff, as well as continuing with the controversial policy – begun under Boris Johnson – of sending some asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Particularly eye-catchingly, Ms Truss indicated that she would pursue further Rwanda-style arrangements with other parts of the world if she became Prime Minister, explaining: “The Rwanda policy is the right policy. I’m determined to see it through to full implementation, as well as exploring other countries that we can work on similar partnerships with. It’s the right thing to do.”
Migrant crossings of the English Channel were a common point of focus among many of the candidates during the Conservative Party leadership contest. In a tweet linking to The Mail on Sunday’s piece, Ms Truss set out that she would “introduce tough measures to deter illegal Channel crossings”, which also included a pledge to “not cower to the ECHR [European Court of Human Rights] and ensure it works for Britain”.
Having served as Member of Parliament (MP) for South West Norfolk since 2010, Liz Truss has voted on a range of UK immigration issues during her time in the House of Commons.
As detailed by the TheyWorkForYou website, her track record includes having “almost always voted for a stricter asylum system” – 11 votes for, zero votes against, and one absence from 2015 to 2020 – and having “almost always voted for stronger enforcement of immigration rules”. Her pattern of voting with regard to the latter is 11 votes for, one vote against, and one absence, between 2015 and 2021.
With the new Prime Minister having only been in post for a week at the time of typing, and the headlines having largely been occupied by the energy crisis and the Queen’s passing, very few moves have yet been made by the new administration that have obvious implications for immigration.
One of the first orders of business for Ms Truss, however, was the appointment of her cabinet, and an early indication of her government’s likely messaging on immigration came in the form of fellow Conservative Party leadership candidate Suella Braverman’s rise to the position of Home Secretary. Indeed, this is the former Attorney General’s first cabinet role.
In a cabinet dominated by Truss loyalists, Braverman is another who lives up to this billing, having backed Ms Truss for the top job after her own second-round exit in the leadership contest. She replaces Priti Patel, who leaves behind a UK immigration system marked by growing asylum backlogs, major delays to other migration routes, and historically low deportation levels.
On the backdrop of Ms Truss’s aforementioned hardened stance on immigration, as well as Ms Braverman’s own reputation as a committed Brexiter, very few observers expect an overt change from much of the Home Office’s messaging under Ms Patel.
Previous statements from Ms Braverman have included staunch support of the Rwanda policy and strong opposition to asylum seekers being able to enter the UK without prior permission. So, any attempt to tackle the asylum backlog by opening up sufficient alternative safe routes into the UK would seem spectacularly unlikely.
And yet, it is precisely this lack of alternative safe routes that will render it practically impossible for the new Home Secretary to fulfil her reported aim of banning all small boats from crossing the Channel. This is borne out in the lack of success of Ms Patel’s attempts to halt the crossings, with more than 8,000 people making the journey during August alone – a new monthly record.
The Fareham MP’s voting record on immigration issues further emphasises the unlikeliness of any drastic shift in stance from Ms Patel’s; again according to TheyWorkForYou, Ms Braverman “generally voted for a stricter asylum system” between 2015 and 2020, recording four votes in favour of this, and eight absences. She also “generally voted for stronger enforcement of immigration rules”, with five votes for, a single vote against, and seven absences from 2015 to 2021.
Another of the first moves made by Liz Truss’s Government has been the ditching of a British Bill of Rights that had been championed by former Justice Secretary – and backer of Mr Sunak in the Conservative Party leadership contest – Dominic Raab.
The Bill of Rights Bill, which had already made some progress through the House of Commons, was meant to give ministers the power to ignore ECHR human rights rulings. It had been due back before Parliament, but as reported by The Telegraph, the BBC, and other sources, it is believed that the bill is now unlikely to progress in its current form.
The Prime Minister reportedly told her cabinet that there were better ways to reform human rights laws, and a source is said to have told BBC political editor Chris Mason that the new administration was “reviewing the most effective means to deliver objectives through our legislative agenda.”
The probable demise of the bill is likely to be welcomed by a wide range of observers, the proposed legislation having been criticised on a variety of grounds.
Human rights groups and the legal profession had expressed concerns that the bill represented an attempted power grab by Government.
However, there looks set to be continued political sparring over human rights, not least given Ms Braverman’s recent stances, such as a stated wish to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, even if such a drastic step does not yet seem likely under a Liz Truss Government.
While a general direction of travel seems to have been set by a combination of Ms Truss’s statements during her leadership bid and her moves so far as Prime Minister, much remains to be seen about the finer points of her Government’s immigration approach.
As we stated in our previous blog post on the Conservative leadership contenders’ attitudes towards UK immigration, a philosophy of liberalisation of the UK immigration system might make more sense from a practical standpoint – including to assist many businesses in their efforts to fill persistent gaps in their workforces – even if this is not necessarily what plays well with the Tory party faithful.
With regard to your own concerns for your immigration status or needs in the UK, please do not hesitate to contact our team of specialists in immigration law for further advice and guidance on how we can help. Complete and submit our online contact form or call 0208 215 0053 today to learn more about our services and expertise, and to request your free consultation.