The four ‘broken promises’ Rishi Sunak made to Suella Braverman

suella and rishi
suella and rishi

When Rishi Sunak brought Suella Braverman back into the Cabinet as Home Secretary on October 25 last year, it was seen as a clear signal to the Right of the party that he would be tough on migration.

At the heart of her reappointment, according to allies of the former Home Secretary, was a written agreement setting out four key proposals to curb net migration, which official figures have shown was about to hit a record high of 745,000 for the year ending in December 2022.

The agreement, seen by the Telegraph, set out measures to meet the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto pledge to reduce overall levels of migration from its then pre-Brexit level of 239,000. Mrs Braverman and her supporters believed that the document, though not signed, had been verbally agreed on multiple occasions by Mr Sunak and witnessed by others.

The agreement helped secure the support of Mrs Braverman and her MP backers on the right of the party as Mr Sunak sought to nail down the leadership following Liz Truss’s resignation as prime minister.

Her allies claim her demands - followed up in six letters to the Prime Minister over 12 months - were ignored, leaving the party exposed to criticism of breaking its manifesto commitment. These are the measures that Mrs Braverman has proposed.

1. Raising workers’ salary thresholds

In the agreement seen by The Telegraph, she was seeking to raise the minimum salary threshold required for foreign skilled workers to be granted a visa from £26,200 a year to £40,000. This would aim to reverse the 150 per cent rise to 335,000 foreign overseas workers granted visas this year compared with pre-pandemic levels.

So far, there has been no change. Downing Street is now considering raising the level, although no decision has been taken and speculation has suggested it is more likely to be raised in line with inflation, having been frozen since its introduction in 2020.

That would take it to around £30,000, still well short of the £40,000 Mrs Braverman sought and the figure advocated by Boris Johnson on Friday who, as the architect of the points-based immigration system, also admitted it had been a “mistake” to set it as low as it originally was.

Such a big hike is backed by the right of the party in the form of the New Conservatives who have argued for a rise to £38,000, which, they estimate, would reduce migrants by 54,000 a year.

Mrs Braverman subsequently went further, pushing for £45,000, while Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick is advocating at least £35,000, the median salary for UK workers.

However, Professor Brian Bell, chair of the Government’s migration advisory committee (MAC), warned any figure higher than one linked to inflation would effectively turn foreign skilled work into graduate level employment, turning the clock back to what it was before Mr Johnson overhauled the system.

2. Restrict numbers of dependants

Ahead of figures in May showing net migration had hit a then record 606,000, the Prime Minister did announce curbs on the dependants of postgraduate students. From January, only those postgraduates doing research will be allowed to bring in relatives, potentially shaving some 150,000 off the net migration total.

Mr Sunak has hailed it as the “single toughest measure” that anyone has taken to bring down the levels of legal migration in a long time but Mrs Braverman wanted him to go further and limit dependants on all visas - and particularly on health and social care ,where 144,000 workers have brought in 174,000 spouses or children.

Mr Jenrick who co-signed Mrs Braverman’s final letter on net migration this October, has been pushing for a ban on all care workers dependants as well as a cap on all health and social care visas.

It is understood Steve Barclay, when health secretary, also advocated a block on care workers’ dependants, but saw the proposal founder in face of resistance from his own officials and other Whitehall departments.

It is now back on the agenda as an option being considered by Number Ten, although it may not end up being a blanket ban and instead potentially restrictions to one dependent per worker, for example.

Victoria Atkins, the Health Secretary, is said to be open to discussions about reducing the number of dependents but is concerned any cap on visas could damage efforts to clear the NHS waiting list backlog.

3. Axe graduate visas

Mrs Braverman used a letter to the Prime Minister last November to expand on her proposal to axe the two-year graduate visa, where students can stay on in the UK for two years after their studies with their dependants and without any requirement to work.

She proposed instead that they should have a four month grace period to stay in the UK after graduating where they would be able to look for work - and switch to a work visa if successful. Otherwise, they would have to leave. The New Conservatives group of MPs believe this would reduce migration by 50,000 a year.

It has been resisted by Number Ten, the Treasury and education department because it provides universities with an attractive selling point to overseas students, whose higher fees cross subsidise UK domestic students’ costs, reducing the need for more state support.

However, Mrs Braverman has a supporter in the MAC, which opposed its introduction because of concerns that it would act as a “backdoor” route for overseas students to access the UK labour market.

Professor Bell said he was concerned that it had led to overseas students using one-year masters’ courses to secure two years’ access to UK work, often in lower skilled jobs.

4. ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees, shortage occupations and caps

In the agreement, Mrs Braverman set out her concerns that there had been a “large increase in numbers of foreign students from developing countries attending non-Russell group universities on Business Studies Masters with dependants.”

She wanted to “prioritise” particular universities and courses which she felt were sacrificing standards in order to boost income by taking in high-paying foreign students on lower quality degrees, often dubbed Mickey Mouse degrees by critics.

Number Ten confirmed in May that it was looking at “low quality” degrees but has stopped short - so far - of taking action after warnings from the MAC and universities that it could drive some institutions into bankruptcy.

In her November 2022 letter to the Prime Minister, Mrs Braverman also called for the abolition of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL), under which companies can hire foreign workers at 20 per cent below the going rate if they are struggling to fill roles. such as?

This has been backed by the MAC, which is concerned it is being used by firms to exploit cheap skilled labour that not only undercuts the market but also acts as a brake on training up domestic UK workers to plug the gaps. Labour has pledged to scrap it if they win the election.

Number Ten is considering reforms to the list but there are likely to be carve-outs for health and social care staff. Downing Street is also understood to be sceptical about Mrs Braverman’s demands (backed by Mr Jenrick) for a cap on health and care visas because of concerns on the impact on reducing NHS waiting lists.

Mrs Braverman also proposed an overall cap on migration, set at a level agreed by Parliament every year, similar to the cap proposed in the illegal migration act for the number of refugees to be allowed in annually through safe and legal routes. Such an overall cap has, however, been firmly ruled out.

A Tory ally of Braverman said: “The Prime Minister needs to get on with delivering our 2019 manifesto promise rather than trying to kid people with warm words and vague pledges. Suella was very clear what needed to be done and he just ignored her. That’s why they didn’t like her - because she had policy principles.”

Yesterday, in an interview with the Mail on Sunday, Mr Sunak defended himself against the claims that he had reneged on a ‘deal’ to implement key policies, in return for her backing his leadership bid.

“Of course you have conversations with people when you are in a leadership election and not just Suella,” Mr Sunak said. Asked if he was worried about her providing proof of a deal, he said: “That’s a question for her. I’m getting on with actually delivering things.”

Number Ten said Mr Sunak had been very clear he believed migration was too high and had to come down to more “sustainable” levels. A Downing Street spokesman noted that the numbers were slowing, adding: “We’re prepared to act and do more.”