UK Conservative party backs mass immigration, but Tory MPs don’t want it in their constituencies

FILE - Asylum seekers who undertook the crossing from France in small boats and were picked up in the Channel are disembarked from a small transfer boat, which ferried them from a larger British Border Force vessel, in Dover, southeast England, Friday, June 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)
By Thomas Brooke
16 Min Read

The U.K. Conservative Party spent nine years following David Cameron’s electoral victory in 2010 pledging to reduce net immigration into Britain to the “tens of thousands,” and failed to do so in every year.

The Brexit referendum of 2016 was fought and won on a pledge to “take back control of Britain’s borders,” a vote that was solidified in the last ever European elections which were won by Nigel Farage’s insurgent Brexit Party, and subsequently in 2019 when Boris Johnson’s Conservative party won its largest parliamentary majority since the 1980s, again running on a ticket to reduce immigration albeit dropping the “tens of thousands” pledge.

The party’s popularity has plummeted since 2019 and Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives are currently languishing at 26 percent of the vote share, according to the latest Deltapoll survey conducted Nov. 10-14; which is almost half of the 50 percent vote share the opposing Labour party currently enjoys.

When those figures are explored further, as they are in a More in Common/Public First poll conducted at the start of November, the primary reason why 2019 Conservative voters have abandoned the party is because, “The Conservative Party has not stopped illegal immigration such as the Channel crossings.”

Concern over immigration has risen substantially since the number of people arriving unlawfully into the country with a view to claiming asylum rose exponentially since 2019.

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Worries about immigration are now the highest they have been since the 2016 Brexit referendum, and according to the More in Common polling almost three quarters (73 percent) of Brexit voters, and 57 percent of all voters in the U.K. believe immigration has increased since Brexit. A total of 78 percent of Brexit voters and 56 percent of all voters consider the current immigration figures to be “too high.”

In contrast, less than a third (30 percent) believe it is either “about right” or “too low.”

So with the sizable parliamentary majority inherited by Rishi Sunak’s administration, and the greater freedom to control its borders provided for by Brexit, you would be forgiven for thinking the Conservative party would find it easy to implement an immigration policy that would please the electorate.

But that hasn’t been the case. On the contrary, the new Conservative government is making the same mistakes as its many predecessors which is affording too much weight to the economic arguments for mass immigration and neglecting people’s valid concerns about the social consequences.

A case in point is Thursday’s Autumn Statement announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt which reads:

Since leaving the European Union, the government has refocused the immigration system towards securing the skilled labor businesses need to stay competitive and innovative. Over the last year a high number of visas have been issued, partly reflecting the U.K.’s action to welcome those from Ukraine and Hong Kong and international students returning after the COVID-19 pandemic. As these temporary factors ease over time, the government expects net migration to return broadly to pre-pandemic levels. The government will continue to strike the balance between reducing overall net migration in the longer term with ensuring businesses have the skills they need.

Inward migration can ease short-term skills gaps, however it is crucial that over the long term, the UK’s domestic workforce is equipped with the skills necessary to maximize their productivity and drive economic growth.

The U.K. Treasury’s Autumn Statement executive summary, published Nov. 17

The Treasury is right on one point, an extraordinary number of visas have been issued in the past year. In Home Office-released visa, asylum and immigration statistics pertaining to the year to June 2022, more than 1.1 million visas were granted for people to come and live in the United Kingdom — that’s more than half a million higher when compared with the year to June 2019, or before the pandemic.

The research group, Migration Watch UK report it is the “highest number of visas for people to come and live [in the U.K.] ever issued in one year.

However, even a return to the pre-pandemic level of 570,000 visas in 2019, which the government claims to want to see, is too high a figure for many U.K. voters. The latest available ONS figures for the year to June 2022 put the level of net immigration at 239,000 per year — a far cry from the previous “tens of thousands” target which Home Secretary Suella Braverman said only last month was still her “ultimate aspiration.”

Source: Office for Budget Responsibility

In the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) report accompanying Thursday’s Autumn Statement, the body assumes net migration “to settle at 205,000 a year from 2026 onwards.”

To many, it has become clear that the Conservative party has no intention of tackling the immigration issue with the vigor necessary to satisfy the social concerns of much of the electorate, and its failings to address the issue are no more visible than in its handling of the English Channel migrant crisis.

More than 40,000 people have crossed the English Channel this year alone to reach Britain, with many of them having traveled from as far as central Africa and the Middle East in order to do so.

Many, however — 12,000 in fact, according to the Home Office — have come from Albania, and many others don’t just originate from “safe” countries but have crossed through a dozen in order to reach Britain.

There have been disputes about how to describe the new arrivals. Much of the right-wing press describe them as economic migrants, while the left-wing press talk of refugees. As they have arrived in Britain in order to claim asylum, we will describe them as asylum seekers.

The U.K. government’s handling of the crisis has long been criticized by both the political right and the left. In the eyes of the former, the government should not be sanctioning the use of Border Force, the Royal Navy, or endorsing the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) charity, all of whom have taxied asylum seekers located in the English Channel to shore. Instead, they argue those attempting to cross should be turned around and escorted to French territorial waters, and those who reach Britain should be deported in order to make the trip less attractive for those attempting to follow suit.

Meanwhile, the latter chastise the government for what they say is its inhumane approach, demand greater facilities for those they are adamant are refugees, and blast the overcrowding of processing centers, such as the overwhelmed 1,600-capacity Manston center in Kent which until recently had been catering for 4,000 asylum seekers.

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Due to overcrowding, the Home Office has for the last few years committed to block-booking now more than 200 hotels across the U.K. to accommodate new arrivals whose asylum applications are being processed at a snail’s pace — just 4 percent of those who arrived last year have so far had their claims reviewed.

However they are described, what is clear is that a growing number of Conservative MPs are getting it in the neck from their constituency’s local authorities, local associations, and residents, all of whom are complaining that social services are — to quote the joint-letter submitted by local authorities in Kent to the Home Office — at “breaking point” and are insisting that numbers in their local area be curtailed.

It seems to be the case that the Conservative party backs mass migration as a concept, but Tory MPs knows that when they are accountable to their dissatisfied constituents who don’t support it, they must publicly denounce the open door policy each British government has overseen since Tony Blair and Labour came to power in 1997.

This week, immigration minister, Robert Jenrick admitted that the Home Office and its third party agent Serco which acts operationally on its behalf, needed to resort to using rural Britain to take its shares of asylum seekers after inner cities became saturated and social services were overwhelmed.

It is safe to say the news didn’t go down well among Conservative MPs with rural constituencies, who knew exactly how their constituents were going to respond to the proposal.

Matt Warman, Conservative MP for Skegness, attempted to let his constituents know he is on their side after furious residents chastised the authorities this week for allowing five hotels in the area be block-booked for an indeterminate amount of time by the Home Office to house asylum seekers.

He agreed there was a “big scale problem” with the government’s current immigration and asylum system and as a consequence “you end up with people being housed in hotels in places like Skegness, which is not the best place to be putting people who potentially have complex health needs and there’s already pressures on health and public services.

“There have been a lot of people getting in touch about it and some of them immensely frustrated. I completely share that and we shouldn’t be in this position in the first place,” he added.

Scott Benton, the Conservative MP for Blackpool South asked Home Office minister Robert Jenrick: “How does he think my constituents who can’t get an NHS dentist or a GP appointment or a council house feel about the fact that we’re spending £2 billion a year on hotel bills because we can’t be bothered to solve this issue?”

Meanwhile, Ben Bradley who represents the constituency of Mansfield revealed that local homeless people had been ejected from a hotel in his area to cater for asylum seekers.

“When local homeless people are being displaced from temporary accommodation in order to use the hotel for migrants, a line has been firmly crossed,” he told the House of Commons, adding that the current situation was “untenable.”

Lee Anderson, Conservative MP for Ashfield echoed Bradley’s sentiment and slammed his own party’s government for not having a harder line on tackling illegal immigration.

“I’ve got 5,000 people in Ashfield who want to secure council housing and they cannot get one. Yet, we’re here debating this nonsense once again. When are we going to stop blaming the French, the ECHR, and the lefty lawyers?” Anderson asked.

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The Conservative MP for Ipswich Tom Hunt recently criticized the High Court’s refusal to extend an injunction won by the local council which prevented a local hotel from accepting more asylum seekers. The hotel had laid off 20 members of staff considered to be redundant after securing a contract with Serco to house the new arrivals.

He called it “an appalling and intolerable situation that angers me just like it angers my constituents.

“There are an increasing number of MPs who are experiencing similar issues in their constituencies and I’m confident that the pressure in parliament to try and force a re-think will only grow,” he added.

The list goes on. Maggie Throup representing the rural Erewash constituency in Derbyshire called the placement of 400 asylum seekers recently housed in two hotels in the area “wholly unsuitable.”

North Devon MP Selaine Saxby requested an “urgent and detailed consultation with the council” in her rural constituency after 55 asylum seekers were placed at a seaside resort hotel with the local council claiming that were not consulted by the Home Office on the move. She told immigration minister Robert Jenrick that the tourism industry in her area is being damaged every day that hotels are not welcoming their normal customers at the expense of housing asylum seekers.

Jonathan Gullis, the Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent North complained asylum seekers were being “dumped on” his constituency and asked Robert Jenrick when he was going to tell Home Office contractor Serco that “Stoke-on-Trent has done its bit and to no more use it?”

Meanwhile, prominent Brexiteer David Davis penned a letter to the Home Office on Thursday to complain about asylum seekers being placed in his rural seat of Haltemprice and Howden without warning, and highlighted the issues the local authorities had already had with a number of Albanian asylum seekers.

Philip Hollobone, the MP for Kettering, accused Albanian nationals — who make up more than a quarter of the total people arriving in Britain via small boats and claiming asylum despite Albania being a safe country — of being behind a crime wave in his constituency.

“From where I’m sitting, at this present time, His Majesty’s government is neither protecting our shores, nor protecting my local community from an increase in imported crime,” the Conservative MP said.

The reality with the Conservative parliamentary party, with mass migration unlikely to be reduced to a level the majority of Brits will find satisfactory, is that it appears to be the case among the party’s MPs of “immigrants for thee, but not for me.”

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