Government’s ambition to cut immigration is ‘not racist’, Suella Braverman says
Home Secretary’s speech at a conference of right-wing Conservatives comes amid internal criticism of Rishi Sunak’s leadership
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She made the comments in a speech to the National Conservatism Conference in London today (15 May) that was twice interrupted by Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters who accused the government of “demonising” migrants.
In her speech, Braverman stressed the need for the Tories to recommit to their 2019 election manifesto pledge to create a “high-skilled, high wage economy” which is less reliant on low-skilled workers from overseas.
Figures out later this month are expected to show a significant rise in net migration - the gap between the number of people arriving in the UK and the number leaving.
Analysis by the centre-right think tank the Centre for Policy Studies suggests the number - for the year to December 2022 - could reach between 700,000 and 997,000. The previous high was 504,000 in the 12 months to June 2022, driven in part by the arrival of refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan.
Braverman told the conference: “I voted and campaigned for Brexit because I wanted Britain to control migration. High-skilled workers support economic growth. Fact. But we need to get overall immigration numbers down. And we mustn’t forget how to do things for ourselves.
“There is no good reason why we can’t train up enough HGV drivers, butchers or fruit pickers. Brexit enables us to build a high-skilled, high-wage economy that is less dependent on low-skilled foreign labour.”
The speech was briefly halted by two demonstrators from XR who were removed from the room by security. The campaign group said it had “secretly entered” the conference to highlight “increasingly dangerous rhetoric from senior political figures”.
Braverman was one of the main speakers at the conference, whose other guests include prominent figures on the right of the Conservative party including former Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg and the Ashfield MP Lee Anderson. Last year, he told the Commons that the government needed to “grow a backbone” and “send illegal immigrants straight back the same day”.
The Home Secretary also hit back at her critics, insisting it wasn’t “xenophobic to say that mass and rapid migration is unsustainable in terms of housing supply, service and community relations”.
She added: “Nor is it bigoted to say that too many people come here illegally and claim asylum, and we have insufficient accommodation for them. I’m not embarrassed to say that I love Britain. No true conservative is. It’s not racist for anyone, ethnic minority or otherwise, to want to control our borders.”
The conference comes as some on the Conservative right have expressed concern about the direction of the party under Rishi Sunak’s leadership.
The Tories lost more than 1,000 councillors in the local election, and the Prime Minister has faced criticism from some of his backbenchers for backtracking on a pledge to scrap or replace thousands of EU laws by the end of this year.
There has also been strong criticism of the government’s approach to tackling illegal immigration. Last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury told the House of Lords that ministers’ plans to “stop the boats” by sending asylum seekers to Rwanda was “morally unacceptable and politically impractical”.