What is the Conservatives’ Common Sense Group?

The backbench pressure group is among a growing number vyying for political influence

John Hayes
Former education minister John Hayes is chair of the Common Sense Group
(Image credit: Ben Stansall - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

An influential group of Conservative MPs has warned the home secretary that an expected “drastic increase” in net immigration “undeniably undermines” Brexit promises.

In a letter to Priti Patel, more than two dozen Tory politicians in the Common Sense Group “sounded the alarm” over data that suggests immigration totals may reach a record high this year, The Telegraph reported.

The letter was organised by the group’s chair, former education minister John Haynes, and several so-called “Red Wall” MPs. They point to figures that show work visas are up by 25% to 239,987, while family visas are up by 49% to 280,776,and student visas by 52% to 432,729.

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The data suggests that net immigration for this year “could be higher than any in recent history”, the letter said. “Of course, there are exceptional circumstances regarding Ukraine and Hong Kong, but the reality of such a drastic increase undeniably undermines our promise to reduce immigration numbers.”

What is the Common Sense Group?

The group “launched quietly in the summer” of 2020 with around 40 members and is one of a string of backbench pressure groups formed after the influential European Research Group found success in shaping Brexit policy, The Guardian reported.

More Conservative MPs quickly joined the Common Sense Group, which made headlines in November 2020 after accusing the National Trust of being “coloured by cultural Marxist dogma” and in the grip of “elitist bourgeois liberals” amid a row about links between the charity’s properties and slavery.

At the time, some “59 MPs and 7 members of the House of Lords” were reported to be members. Their ranks have included disgraced Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan, who was sentenced this week to 18 months in jail for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.

In the fallout of the National Trust challenge, group founder John Hayes told The Guardian that while the European Research Group had “served an important role”, the government needed “to decide what its defining purpose is beyond Brexit”.

“There’s a thirst in the party to have an open debate about what the direction should be now,” he continued. “There’s a different kind of Conservative family emerging.”

In a manifesto published by his own group in May 2021 – titled Common Sense: Conservative Thinking for a Post-Liberal Age Hayes wrote that it was time for a “refreshed national conversation on the defining issues of our time” such as “nationhood, community, migration, the rule of law and public order”.

The former minister hit headlines again earlier this month after vowing to write to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi to demand an investigation into an early years anti-racism consultancy whose work he described as “brainless nonsense” and “deeply sinister”, reported The Telegraph. According to the paper, “several local authorities” had called on the services of The Black Nursery Manager, which runs training sessions on how to explore the concept of race and culture with under-fives.

Consultancy chief Liz Pemberton, a former nursery manager, “said her inbox had been flooded with abuse” in the wake of Hayes’ comments, The Guardian reported.

What has the group said about immigration?

In their letter to the home secretary, the backbenchers write that “as you have grasped, mass immigration only pays lip service to the concept of ‘control’”.

The signatories argue that the vote for Brexit was a “resounding declaration from the British people that they wanted to take back control” of the immigration system, and that voters understand the “dire consequences” of failing to tackle rising immigration numbers.

“It is our duty to do right by the promise we made to them,” the letter added.

In response, the Home Office said that the new post-Brexit points-based system “delivers on a key government commitment to put in place an immigration system which works in our national interest”, but added that the “rise in dangerous Channel crossings is unacceptable”.

“The Nationality and Borders Act will fix this broken system by protecting those in genuine need while cracking down on evil people smuggling gangs,” said a spokesperson.

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