Rishi Sunak faces Cabinet tensions over 'out-of-control' immigration

Cabinet tensions over record immigration as Suella Braverman’s allies claim PM agreed to hike minimum salary for work visas as part of Tory leadership deal

Tory tensions over immigration are threatening to flare out of control today after Suella Braverman’s allies claimed Rishi Sunak agreed to hike the minimum salary for work visas as part of a leadership deal.

Raising the salary threshold from £26,000 to £40,000 was said to have been among the terms of a pact that saw the former Home Secretary stand aside last year.

The claim emerged as the Conservative right heaps pressure on the PM to take tough action after figures showed net migration had reached a staggering new record of 745,000.

Attending an investment conference in London this morning, Mr Sunak stressed that the most recent figures showed levels easing slightly. 

He said the government had already cracked down on students bringing dependants, merely saying he would look at whether more action is needed. 

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick is believed to be urging a five-point plan including many of the measures that were backed by Ms Braverman.

In a round of interviews, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch said the salary threshold should rise and she will be ‘pushing for the strongest measures possible’.

‘I think we should do whatever it takes to make sure we can control and secure our borders,’ she told BBC Radio 4’s Today. 

However, current Home Secretary James Cleverly has seemed to strike a significantly softer tone since the migration figures, playing down the importance of the Rwanda deal.   

Rishi Sunak, pictured at an investment conference in London today, is struggling to contain Cabinet tensions over migration poliicy

Ms Braverman slammed the Prime Minister in an open letter amid her departure from Cabinet

In a round of interviews this morning, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch said the salary threshold should rise and she will be ‘pushing for the strongest measures possible’

Figures last week showed net long-term migration reached a new record of 745,000 in 2022 

The PM is alleged to have agreed a four-point plan to deal tackle migration with Mrs Braverman, according to documents seen by the Telegraph. 

As part of this, Mr Sunak is said to have pledged to raise the minimum salary threshold required for a foreign skilled worker visa from £26,000 to £40,000.

It is a move that received support from Boris Johnson earlier this week, but earlier this month one Whitehall source suggested ministers were looking at raising it to £33,000 instead.

Among other parts of the pact were plans to remove graduate visas, bring down the number of dependants legal migrants can take with them and prioritise applicants to Russell Group universities when looking at student visa applications.

Mrs Braverman slammed the Prime Minister in an open letter amid her departure from Cabinet earlier this month for what she called his failure to honour the promises he made to her.

Mr Cleverly is facing fresh questions about his commitment to the Government’s Rwanda scheme amid claims he ‘repeatedly blocked’ efforts to put a back-up plan in place.

Alternative schemes including deals with a number of other African countries and British Overseas Territories – such as Ascension Island – were thwarted by Mr Cleverly in his previous job as Foreign Secretary, Tory sources said.

One highly placed source in the party said Mr Cleverly ‘has the wrong mindset for the job’ – just two weeks after he was parachuted in to replace sacked Suella Braverman.

The claim, denied by Mr Cleverly, comes amid growing Cabinet tensions over how to keep the Rwanda scheme alive after the Supreme Court blocked it this month.

Government sources had suggested a new treaty with Rwanda would be published last week, backed up by ’emergency legislation’ to prevent further court challenges.

However, it is now not likely to appear before next week at the earliest, amid Cabinet wrangling over how far to go in exempting the policy from human rights laws. 

Mr Sunak defended himself in an interview with the Mail on Sunday at the weekend against Ms Braverman claims that he had reneged on a ‘deal’ to implement key policies. 

‘Of course you have conversations with people when you are in a leadership election and not just Suella,’ Mr Sunak said. 

Mr Sunak asked voters to be patient, pledging that he is committed to delivering more sustainable levels of migration.

He said: ‘There is obviously a lot more to do and that’s why we need to take action. I announced previously significant tightening up on the number of dependants that students can bring, which has seen a very striking rise over the past year or two.

‘This represents the single biggest measure of restriction on legal migration that anyone’s announced in years. That should give people a sense of my determination to bring these numbers down.

‘As we go over them, as we see other areas of abuse, we won’t hesitate to take action and clamp down.’ Despite reports of Cabinet splits over his efforts to use new legislation to save his deal to send illegal migrants to Rwanda, the Prime Minister said it should be remembered that there has been a fall in the number of small boats migrants arriving across the Channel. 

Mr Cleverly voiced his opposition to quitting the ECHR at the weekend, telling The Times the Rwanda scheme was ‘not the be all and end all’ of the Government’s efforts to tackle the Channel migrant crisis.

Treasury minister Laura Trott yesterday appeared to rebuke Mr Cleverly, saying that the Rwanda plan was ‘central’ to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s bid to deter illegal migrants from crossing the Channel – although she played down claims of a Cabinet split.

The Mail understands that proposals to secure Rwanda-style deals with a number of other African countries had to be abandoned after Mr Cleverly objected.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick is believed to be urging a five-point plan including many of the measures that were backed by Ms Braverman

‘There were other African countries Cleverly would not get into negotiations with, and then threw obstacles in the way,’ a Conservative source said.

‘He was refusing to look at it properly until the legal ruling on Rwanda had come back.

‘The Foreign Office put forward a couple of South American countries as possible contenders – without actually speaking to those nations properly about it – but they were completely unsuitable.’

Mr Cleverly also thwarted proposals to set up asylum processing centres on Ascension Island, Saint Helena or the Falkland Islands, Tory sources said. 

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