immigration question

The Immigration Debate: returns and deterrents

On 25 June, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Opposition Leader Keir Starmer faced their third and penultimate round of questions of the election campaign. Similar to last week’s Sky News Debate, Sunak and Starmer were each interviewed separately by Political Editor Harry Cole before facing questions from the audience. However, unlike the previous debate, both the Prime Minister and the Leader of The Opposition faced tough questions about immigration. It is clear that immigration is at the forefront of voters’ minds, so much so that this election has been dubbed the ‘immigration election’. Below, we provide a snapshot of both the Prime Minister and the Leader of The Opposition’s plans to lower immigration figures in the UK from the latest election debate.

The Prime Minister’s Questions

Small boats and Rwanda and lowering immigration

The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faced questioned first. The first topic of discussion was small boats, an issue of great concern for some voters.

Q: Host – “Your pledge to stop the boats has failed. Since you made that pledge, 55,000 migrants have crossed the Channel. Do you regret making that pledge which was clearly impossible?”

Rishi Sunak: “No, I want people to know where I stand. I think that illegal migration is unfair. I don’t think that its right that people come to this country illegally and I want to do everything I can to stop it. Look at the progress we’ve made, over the past 12 months, the numbers are lower. The only way to lower immigration is to say that if you come to our county illegally, you will be removed.

If I am your Prime Minister in July, flights will go to Rwanda and people will be removed. The flights will go ahead in July. The choice for you is about the future, either you believe that illegal migrants should not be in our country and that they should be removed or you agree with Keir Starmer and Labour who say that they’re all going to be released and be out onto our streets. Do you want illegal migrants on flights elsewhere or do you want out on your streets with Labour? That’s the choice facing everyone during this election.

The Election: why call an Election before flights could take off?

Q: Host Harry Cole then asked Rishi Sunak “Why did you call an election before flights could take off if you are so confident in the plan?”

Sunak was also asked this question during last weeks ITV debate by host Beth Rigby. According to information given to host Harry Cole by a source in Whitehall, Sunak was allegedly told that the prospect of flights taking off in July would be severely hindered by massive amounts of legal action.

To this, the Prime Minister responded: “People have tried to frustrate this starting with the Labour party for a long time. Every time someone has tried to block It, I’ve kept going. I’ve put new laws on the table and we have passed those laws. This is about the future. I’ve got a plan. If you think this is a problem, I have not heard an alternative plan from anyone. 15 other European countries agree that our approach of removing people is the right one. The only way to stop the problem is to remove the incentive for people to come in the first place. Labour will release these people onto the streets.

Rishi Sunak does indeed have support from 15 European countries. Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer praised Sunak as a ‘pioneer’ on migration. Elsewhere, the CDU, Germany’s centre-right party – formerly led by Angela Merkel – has also backed Sunak’s plan. Current Christian Democrat leader Friedrich Merz is ‘firmly convinced’ the Rwanda approach will work. He added that it is something his party ‘could emulate’. Although Sunak has growing support for the Rwanda scheme across Europe, he is yet to convince a significant proportion British voters and policy makers of the plans potential for success.

The NHS, net migration and welfare

Q: Sunak then received a question from a member of the audience: “What do you plan to do about the supposed 4 million migrants in receipt of health benefits on the NHS?”

Rishi Sunak“There has been a massive spiral in the NHS welfare bill since Covid, it has gone up by 60%. Almost 800,000 people of working age have now been signed off as sick. I don’t think that this is right. We made great progress before Covid and we need to get back to that. We have set out a plan to reform the system. People will have to provide more medical evidence and we will reform sick note culture. If you don’t accept a job when your job coach tells you that there is a job available for you, you won’t receive benefits. These are all very common sense things that will make savings in our welfare budget and we’ll use those to cut your taxes and support people into work.”

The subtext

The Prime Minister failed to mention that migrants who enter the UK for over 6 months have to pay an Immigration Health Surcharge of £1,035 for each year that the visa is issued. They also pay National Insurance on any income made in the UK. Therefore, migrants pay towards the health benefits that they receive from the NHS.

Added to this, there is a significant NHS staff shortfall which stands at 112,000. The question posed to the Prime Minister picks up on the fact that migrants use the NHS but in his answer, the Prime Minister failed to recognise that migrants contribute to the NHS both financially and by filling a helpful proportion of NHS vacancies.

In June 2023, under Sunak’s reign, NHS England announced its first ever NHS Long Term Workforce Plan to address the existing vacancies and meet the challenges of an increasing aging population. Furthermore, the plan was commissioned and accepted by the current Sunak government. The plan suggests that NHS England can fill the gap by 2036/37. This is twelve to thirteen years away at a time when the waiting list stands at over 7 million. The plan also doesn’t acknowledge that these vacancies exist today, especially when weighed against a waiting list of over 7 million. These vacancies relate to England only but not the United Kingdom as a whole.

This question and answer is very much about immigration, the entitlement of migrants to use the NHS that they pay into and the contribution that they make to the service. This also applies to the Care sector.

Legal migration

The host then questioned Sunak about the recent record high rates of legal migration.

Q: “Do you wish you went further? Why didn’t you go further sooner when people in your Cabinet such as Suella Braverman made such suggestions?”

Rishi Sunak“I’m not going to defend the levels of immigration that I inherited. They were just too high. I’ve been Prime Minister for 18 months, the number of main category visas issued are down by 30%. If you look at the independent forecast, we are forecasted to half net migration in 12 months because of measures I’ve taken but the Labour party opposed all of those measures. I want to go further. I want to assure you that it is gong to keep coming down every year. We will have a migration cap voted on every year by parliament to ensure this. This country has never reduced net migration on key visa categories by 30%. My measures have achieved this. We have tightened up the Social Care visa and the Health and Care worker visa. The net migration cap will ensure that it continues to go down.”

Please see our previous article about the impact of these measures to legal migration in the care sector.

Sir Keir Starmer’s Questions

Removing undocumented migrants

Keir Starmer’s first immigration question came from a member of the audience;

Q: “What will you offer in terms of illegal migrants and the physical process of deportation. What will the Labour party do to deport them and where to?”

Keir Starmer“Under this Conservative government there has been a record number of illegal immigrants coming to this country. The numbers of people crossing the Channel in small boats are record numbers. Nobody should be making that journey across the channel. It is a breach of our borders and a matter of national security because it is the government who decides who comes into this country and it needs to know exactly who is coming.”

“I think that this is serious and I take it very seriously. It is a test of government and the Tories are failing. I’ve looked carefully at this. There are criminal gangs running these trades making a fortune putting people in those boats and have to take those gangs down. I do not accept that it is not possible to take down these gangs.”

“In the first few days of government, we will implement a border security command with terrorism powers to work on that. I’ve done it before and I know that we can stop people coming in the first place. On the question of returns, the number of people being returned to where they came from has dropped off by 44% under this government. This is because they are are failing. So, on first few days, I’ll put staff back in returns unit and make sure we’ve got planes going back, not to Rwanda, because that is an expensive gimmick. The only way to stop the boats is to smash the gangs.”

The subtext

The UK already has such a command, it is the Border Force which is a law enforcement command within the Home Office which controls the UK border by carrying out immigration and customs controls for people. It is responsible for air, sea and rail ports in the UK.

Creating a deterrent to curb undocumented immigration

Q: Host – “You need a deterrent to stop people from coming in well as returning people to their countries. What is your deterrent?

Keir Starmer “At the moment, people know that if they get here, they’re basically here for life. Tens of thousands of people are not being processed. If there was a deterrent, the numbers are too high.”

Processing undocumented migrants

An audience member then interjected asking:

Q: “When they [undocumented migrants] arrive, they destroy their passport and legal documents so that they can’t be processed. Where are you going to send them to if you don’t know where they are from?”

Kier Starmer “Some of the migrants are actively processed. Under the last Labour government we returned people from their country of origin. Of course it was difficult, but it can be done. Under the Tories, the number of returns is down by 44%. But the most vital thing in my view, is stopping people from coming in the first place. Labours new border security command, if elected, will operate across several different countries to stop the boats. We have to regain security at our borders before we address returns.”

The subtext:

It is unclear if Keir Starmer work with European partners to stop undocumented individuals from entering the UK outside of European framework.

Dealing with the processing backlog

Q: Host – “Your policy currently is to process everyone who is already here. There is a asylum 65% grant rate. If you were a migrant you’d take those odds wouldn’t you? Essentially, by saying that you are going to process everyone, you’re creating a pull effect aren’t you?”

Keir Starmer  – “At the moment, this government is not processing the claims. There are 50,000 people here that are not being processed. If we carry on with Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister, it will get to 100,000 by the end of the year, they are not being processed. The one thing we know, is that if you’re not processed is that you can’t be returned anywhere so you’re staying here.

Who’s paying for the accommodation for those 50,000 people? You are. Who’s paying the hotel bills? You are. We could do this forever. All of those who shouldn’t be here, should be sent back. At the moment, the number of people being sent back is 0. I think that this is outrageous. It is not a disincentive. If it was a disincentive, why are more people under this government coming this year than last year? It’s record numbers. Rwanda won’t work and people know that if they come here they will be looked after. We’ve got to put in place a border security command that will stop the breach of the borders.”

Rwanda scrapped under Starmer

Essentially, Starmer’s Labour Party will send failed asylum seekers back to where they come from. This does not mark a change of policy. As opposed to creating a new scheme such as Rwanda, Labour will strengthen the existing method by creating a new border control. Its efficiency in deterring migrants from crossing the Channel in small boats can only be judges if Labour succeed in getting into power on July 4.

The final debate

The conclusive election debate takes place today at 8:15pm BST on 26 June on the BBC. Unlike the last two debates, the Prime Minister and the Leader of The Opposition will go head to head on core topics. Being that it is their last chance to impress and entice voters on the big screen, it is likely that they will discuss their immigration proposals once again.

Written by Mya Alghali

If you have questions or concerns or you would like straightforward immigration advice, or help with applying for a visa, Thomas Chase Immigration can help. Our processes are tried and tested. We offer an individual touch when assisting you and presenting the matter to UKVI. Contact us at

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