What can we expect on immigration from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak?

By Amer Zaman

on November 17, 2022

Read Time: 7 Minutes

On 25th October, came the beginning of the latest chapter of a year that has already seen no shortage of unprecedented events for the UK: the appointment of Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister, replacing Liz Truss, who had served in the position for just 50 days.

In rising to the country’s highest political office, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer under Boris Johnson became not only the third UK Prime Minister in 2022 – and the second during King Charles III’s still-young reign – but also the youngest Prime Minister in modern times, the first Hindu Prime Minister, and the first of Asian heritage.

But will Mr Sunak’s actual policies in office be quite so unprecedented? The short answer on the basis of the limited evidence we have so far, would seem to be “no”. So, let’s take a look at the new Prime Minister’s previously documented views on immigration issues, and what this might mean for how his government shapes up on such matters in the months and years to come.

How has Mr Sunak voted on immigration issues in the House of Commons?  

Having served as Member of Parliament (MP) for Richmond (Yorks) since 2015, Rishi Sunak has voted on a range of issues related to immigration in the House of Commons.

In his seven years in Parliament to date, Mr Sunak has generally voted for the stronger enforcement of immigration rules. This has included voting to create criminal offences of renting a home, driving, and working while disqualified from doing so due to immigration status. He has also previously voted to make it an offence to rent a home to someone who is disqualified as a consequence of their immigration status. 

In addition, the Richmond MP has voted in the past against banning the immigration detention of people who are pregnant, and has voted in favour of arrangements for immigration checks for those opening accounts with banks and building societies.

In July 2021, he voted for a series of changes to the law in relation to immigration and nationality. These measures included permitting the removal of asylum seekers with applications pending to other countries, as well as provisions designed to discourage unsafe and dangerous routes to entry to the UK. Mr Sunak’s voting record specifically on asylum shows a preference to putting in place a stricter system. His steps in this area have included voting to restrict the support available to failed asylum seekers and illegal migrants, as well as voting against giving asylum seekers permission to work if they are still waiting for a decision on their application after more than six months.

What was Rishi Sunak’s 10-point plan for immigration?

In late July 2022, during the Conservative Party leadership contest that he went on to lose to Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak set out a 10-point plan designed to, in the words of his campaign, “take back control of our borders”.

That plan consisted of the following steps:

  1. Reforming asylum laws: the now-Prime Minister’s leadership campaign had pledged to tighten the definition of who qualified for asylum in the UK, giving primacy to the Refugee Convention over what it described as a more expansive interpretation by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The campaign had also promised enhanced powers for the detention, tagging, and monitoring of illegal migrants.
  2. Giving Parliament control over who enters the UK: Mr Sunak had promised to put in place a cap – set annually by Parliament – on the number of refugees accepted by the UK each year via safe and legal routes, with scope to modify this in emergencies.
  3. The creation of a cross-government Small Boats Taskforce: it was promised that this Taskforce would “coordinate the response to every step of an illegal migrant’s journey – from the upstream operations of smuggling gangs to detention in the UK”, through work alongside the National Crime Agency (NCA) and UK intelligence capabilities.
  4. Optimisation of the Rwanda deal: Mr Sunak’s campaign had vowed to continue this controversial arrangement with the Rwandan authorities – and not only that, but also pursue “other migrant partnerships”, following the principle that no adult entering the UK “illegally” would be entitled to stay in the country.
  5. Strengthening the enforcement of immigration rules: the leadership hopeful had argued in favour of making resources available for a greater number of raids and site visits, in addition to imposing tougher fines and custodial sentences on those found guilty of exploiting illegal labour.
  6. Setting clear targets on small boat crossings, and holding the French to account: a pledge based on stepping up cooperation with the French to prevent small boats leaving on journeys across the Channel to the UK.
  7. Returning failed asylum seekers and foreign criminals to their countries of origin: this pledge focused on making migration more prominent in the UK’s foreign policy, making aid, trade, and visas contingent on the willingness of countries to cooperate on returns.
  8. No longer using hotels to accommodate migrants: Mr Sunak had called for the delivery of thousands of new beds to enable the end of the practice of hotels being used to house migrants.
  9. Clearing the asylum backlog: the campaign had urged that a target be set of 80% of asylum claims being resolved within six months of being lodged. Mr Sunak had said that this would be made possible by bringing in more case workers, simplifying guidance, and improving use of technology.
  10. Home Office and Border Force reforms: Mr Sunak had also stated that he would commission work to consider more fundamental reform of the Home Office and Border Force.

In early November 2022, after Mr Sunak’s installation as Prime Minister, Number 10 said there would be a review to consider whether his Conservative Party leadership contest pledges were still “deliverable” in light of the deteriorating economic backdrop.

So, it would seem that the new Prime Minister has allowed himself plenty of scope to soften or even abandon some of the aforementioned stances over the months and years ahead.

Mr Sunak’s steps on immigration policy to date as Prime Minister

Immigration policy became a major subject of discussion in the early days and weeks of Mr Sunak’s premiership, including in relation to controversy surrounding his Home Secretary, Suella Braverman.

Ms Braverman had held the same post under the previous Prime Minister’s short spell in office, only to resign over an apparent security breach. Now installed once again in the role under Mr Sunak, Ms Braverman admitted there were six occasions on which she had improperly sent government documents to her private email address. Although she apologised for the violations, she said these had not imperilled national security.

Ms Braverman has also faced intense pressure over the conditions at the Manston processing facility for asylum seekers in Kent, amid reports of violence and outbreaks of infectious disease. Political opponents have said that she ignored legal advice that it was unlawful to detain people for too long in the facility, instead of finding hotel rooms or other suitable accommodation for them.

Particular controversy has erupted over the Home Secretary’s description of the arrival of asylum seekers in small boats crossing the English Channel as an “invasion”.

Claiming that the asylum system is broken and “out of control”, Ms Braverman has defended herself in Parliament, stating: “What I have refused to do is prematurely release thousands of people into local communities without having anywhere for them to stay.”

What is Rishi Sunak’s policy on the Channel crossings?

The small-boat crossings of the English Channel were a major subject of discussion during Rishi Sunak’s initial failed Conservative Party leadership campaign in the summer. During that campaign, he had pledged to set up a cross-government “Small Boats Taskforce”, and to cooperate to a greater extent with the French authorities to prevent small boats setting out from France.

Mr Sunak was reported to have pushed for a deal on the Channel crossings in his first call with French president Emmanuel Macron, several days after the former took office.

Mr Sunak and Mr Macron met for the first time in person at the COP27 climate summit in early November. The UK Prime Minister stated that he had left his meeting with the French president feeling more confident and optimistic about the UK’s efforts with other European nations to tackle the migrant crisis. Downing Street also said at the time that the UK and France were in the “final stages” of discussions on a new deal to curb the number of migrants crossing the Channel. About 40,000 people are reported to have crossed the Channel in small boats so far in 2022. 

How can the Cranbrook Legal team assist with your immigration case?

Much clearly remains to be seen about the stance that Rishi Sunak will take on a host of immigration concerns during his time as Prime Minister. However, his past views do suggest efforts will continue to crack down on immigration numbers to the UK, and to even link immigration to broader UK foreign policy. In the meantime, if you are on the lookout for a team of specialists in immigration law who will be able to take on your case and assist you in achieving a rewarding life in the UK, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. You can call us on 0208 215 0053, or complete and submit our online contact form to arrange a free consultation.

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