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Home Secretary James Cleverly denies rift with immigration minister Robert Jenrick

Home Secretary James Cleverly has denied a rift with immigration minister Robert Jenrick amid suspicions that the latter is seeking to become the “poster boy” for the Tory Right.

The two met Right-wing Tory MPs on Tuesday and the Cabinet minister is understood to have stressed how united he was with Mr Jenrick on seeking to reduce the level of immigration to Britain.

Mr Cleverly is also understood to have told the MPs that he supports the Government's flagship Rwanda scheme after an interview in which he stressed it should not be seen as the “be all and end all” of the plans to deal with the "small boats" crisis.Mr Jenrick, though, is being seen by some MPs as possibly seeking to become the “poster boy” for the Tory Right after the sacking of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary.

In the Commons on Tuesday, he took a hard line on cutting net migration, stressing that people are “sick of talk” and want action.

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He insisted a “serious package of fundamental reforms” is planned.

The immigration minister said that annual net migration, which up until June 2023 stood at 672,000, places “untold pressure” on housing supply, public services and “makes successful integration virtually impossible”.

For the 12 months to December 2022, the estimate of 745,000 was a record high.

Mr Jenrick also said there are “strong arguments” for introducing a cap on migration numbers and suggested conversations about the measures are being held within Government.

Mr Jenrick suggested he would have liked to bring forward tighter migration reforms last year, amid claims that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reneged on a plan to bring in harsher controls he had agreed with Suella Braverman in exchange for her support during the 2022 Conservative Party leadership contest.

Cabinet minister Steve Barclay appeared on Wednesday morning to go out of his way to back Mr Cleverly, while not voicing the same level of support for Mr Jenrick.

Asked if he supported the idea of a cap on migration, the Environment Secretary told Times Radio: “I absolutely support bringing the numbers down. We clearly need to go further, faster.

“We’re taking action, for example, on dependants, so around 150,000 student dependants where that route has been closed. That announcement has been made.”

Mr Barclay, a former Health Secretary, confirmed restrictions on social care workers’ dependants was being considered by Mr Cleverly.

“One of the areas where I know the Home Secretary will want to look is dependants of those coming in to the care sector," he said.

“So, there are a range of options. The Home Secretary ... it’s quite right to say we need to bring those numbers down.

“There’s action that we have already taken such as on student dependants, where a tighter approach is being applied, but clearly we need to go further and I absolutely support the Home Secretary in doing so.”

Mr Jenrick told MPs on Tuesday: “It is crystal clear we need to reduce the numbers significantly by bringing forward further measures to control and reduce the number of people coming here and, secondly, to stop the abuse and exploitation of our visa system by companies and individuals.

“So far this year we’ve initiated a significant number of investigations into sectors, such as care companies suspected of breaching immigration rules.

“We are actively working across Government on further substantive measures and will announce details to the House as soon as possible.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, who secured a Commons urgent question on the issue, said: “Net migration figures are now three times the level that they were at the 2019 general election when the Conservatives promised to reduce them, and that includes a 65 per cent increase in work migration this year that reflects a complete failure by the Conservatives on both the economy and on immigration.”

She added: “Net migration should come down. Immigration is important for Britain and always will be, but the system needs to be properly controlled and managed so it’s fair and effective and is properly linked to the economy.”

Mr Jenrick, responding, said: “We believe that the number of people coming into this country is too high, that it is placing unbearable pressure on our public services and on housing, that it is making it impossible to integrate people into this country and is harming community cohesion and national unity.

“It is also a moral failure because it’s leaving people on welfare and enabling companies to reach all too often for the easy lever of foreign labour.

“For all those reasons, we are determined to tackle this issue. We understand the concerns of the British public and I’m here to say that we share them, and that we are going to bring forward a serious package of fundamental reforms to address this issue once and for all.”

Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) said Mr Jenrick has his “full support”, adding: “I am deeply concerned and confused because at the weekend I get the Prime Minister saying that migration is too high and needs to come down to more sustainable levels - the full-fat option.

“Yesterday I get the skimmed option, with the Prime Minister boasting about our competitive visa regime. The Cabinet members who sit round with (Mr Jenrick) - are they full-fat, semi-skimmed or skimmed?”

Mr Jenrick replied: “I support (Mr Gullis) in his lobbying and campaigning for the Government to take this issue seriously because he speaks for millions of people across the country who see the levels of net migration as far too high.

“Of course it’s right that we want the UK to be a country which is open to the very best and the brightest, and that’s why we’ve taken action in creating visa routes, such as the global talent one that the Prime Minister was promoting at the investment summit this week.

“But we have to reduce net migration and that does mean taking difficult choices and it means making a tangible difference now in the months ahead. The public are sick of talk - they want action, they want us to bring forward a clear plan.”

Asked by Tory former minister Dr Caroline Johnson if his plan will be in place before Christmas, Mr Jenrick said: “My plan would have been brought to the House before last Christmas if I could have done, but let’s hope we can bring forward a substantive package of reforms very quickly.

“I am working intensively with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. We are at one on this issue.”

Mr Jenrick’s answer suggesting he would have liked to move more swiftly comes after the Telegraph newspaper suggested an alleged deal between Ms Braverman and Mr Sunak included plans to raise the salary threshold for migrant workers to £40,000.