In a heated session of Prime Minister’s Questions at the House of Commons on Wednesday, May 24th, 2023, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer clashed over the government’s immigration policies and their impact on the economy.
The session began with Starmer questioning the number of work visas issued to foreign nationals in the previous year. Prime Minister Sunak responded by stating that the most recent statistics would be released later in the week and highlighted the unique circumstances that had influenced the previous figures. He mentioned the inclusion of individuals granted visas for humanitarian reasons.
However, Starmer countered by revealing that a quarter of a million work visas had been issued in the previous year, and he accused the Prime Minister of deliberately withholding the information. Starmer also criticised the Conservative Party’s repeated broken promises to reduce immigration and questioned the Home Secretary’s ability to handle points-based systems.
The Prime Minister defended the government’s actions, citing recent measures taken to tackle legal migration, including stricter rules for international students and a review of maintenance requirements. He accused Starmer of lacking ideas and promoting an open-door migration policy.
Starmer argued that the high number of visas issued was due to labour and skills shortages caused by the low-wage economy fostered by the Conservative government. He criticised the policy of allowing businesses in certain sectors to pay foreign workers less than their British counterparts and questioned whether it discouraged training and hiring local talent.
Responding, the Prime Minister accused the Labour Party of advocating for even higher levels of immigration and referenced comments from Labour Front Bencher Anneliese Dodds, who expressed opposition to setting immigration targets. The Prime Minister defended the government’s efforts to clamp down on illegal migration and emphasised the need for control.
The discussion then shifted to the apprenticeship levy, with Starmer claiming it was ineffective and hindered young people’s opportunities. He suggested that Labour would provide more flexibility to businesses to address skills gaps. The Prime Minister countered by highlighting recent education reforms that had led to British students being ranked as the best readers in the Western world. He also referenced the International Monetary Fund’s positive growth forecast for the UK.
Starmer concluded by criticising the government’s immigration policies, claiming they had lost control of the economy, public services, and immigration. He expressed disbelief at the Home Secretary’s suggestion that British workers should become fruit pickers and called for the Prime Minister to support more comprehensive plans for skills, growth, and wages.
In response, the Prime Minister touted the UK’s projected growth compared to other European nations and highlighted recent achievements in public services such as improved reading results and faster ambulance response times. He accused Starmer of empty rhetoric and stressed the government’s focus on delivering for the British people through legislation addressing disruptive protests, strike actions, and illegal immigration.
The session ended with both leaders reiterating their opposing viewpoints on immigration and their commitment to the welfare of working people.
Prime Minister’s Questions once again showcased the deep divisions between the government and the opposition, particularly regarding immigration policies and their impact on the economy. As the debate continues, the country awaits the release of the official statistics on work visas, which are expected to shed further light on the contentious issue of immigration in the UK.