Points-based immigration system will be in force by 2021, No 10 says

Heather Stewart
Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images

Boris Johnson’s overhauled cabinet has agreed that a new points-based immigration system will be implemented from 1 January next year, believing that it will reduce the number of people coming to the UK, Downing Street has announced.

At the start of Friday morning’s cabinet meeting, which was recorded for television, Johnson led his new slimmed-down team, which he called the “people’s government”, in a call-and-response enumeration of his election pledges.

A spokesperson said that after the cameras left the cabinet agreed that a tougher immigration system would be introduced at the start of next year.

Related: No 10 refuses to confirm if budget will go ahead as scheduled – live news

Details of the scheme will not be announced until next week, but Downing Street confirmed that it would close down routes for low-skilled workers to come to the UK, with the effect of reducing overall immigration.

“Following discussion, cabinet agreed the implementation of a points-based immigration from 1 January 2021. The system will be simpler and fairer, and will not discriminate between countries – and will return democratic control of immigration to the British people,” a spokesperson said.

“The prime minister stressed that we must demonstrate that the UK is open and welcoming to talent from across the world; but the new system would end reliance on importing cheap, low-skilled labour – bringing down migration numbers overall.”

That will mark a dramatic change, fulfilling one of the central promises of the Vote Leave campaign during the Brexit referendum.

Successive Conservative governments had promised to reduce migration, but lacked the ability to control the number of EU arrivals. Concerns about the impact on economic growth and public services limited the extent to which ministers were prepared to crack down on non-EU arrivals.

Asked exactly how the new system would cut immigration, the spokesman said: “We will introduce a points-based system which by its very nature will give the government control over who can come in. You have the levers within the system”.

Asked if the government would be willing to accept slower economic growth as the price of bringing migration down, he said: “The prime minister has been clear: the public elected this government on the basis of taking back control of our borders. That is what this policy will do.”

No 10 is keen to demonstrate that it is pressing ahead with the agenda set out in the Conservatives’ manifesto, despite the abrupt resignation of Sajid Javid as chancellor on Thursday.

But in a signal of the uncertainty created by Javid’s departure, the spokesperson was unable to confirm that the budget will go ahead as announced on 11 March. The new chancellor, Rishi Sunak, sat alongside the prime minister as the cabinet met. Downing Street said Sunak had reminded ministers of their need to find savings of 5% from their departmental budgets, to be “reprioritised” for other purposes.

Asked whether the government would stick with the spending rules set out in the Tory manifesto, which could tie No 10’s hands as it seeks to “level up” the country – a point of contention with Javid – the spokesperson said: “We will continue to have a clear fiscal framework.”

Johnson continued to fill the lower ranks of his government on Friday with several new appointments. Greg Hands, who resigned rather than vote for Heathrow expansion, returns as a minister in the department for international trade.

Jake Berry, a longtime ally of Johnson’s, resigned as Northern Powerhouse minister, rather than accept a job in another department. Downing Street suggested the task of representing the “northern powerhouse” would now be added to the portfolio of another, existing cabinet minister.

Several women were also appointed to junior roles. The government insisted Johnson was committed to advancing female talent despite the fact that fewer than a quarter of his new cabinet are women.