Sunak's migrant deal with Braverman: a drift from 'proper' political process?

PM allegedly promised tougher immigration measures in leadership deal with former home secretary

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak is under increasing pressure from the right of his party to bring down immigration numbers
(Image credit: WPA Pool/Getty Images)

A secret deal Rishi Sunak struck with Suella Braverman included a £40,000 salary threshold for migrants to the UK, according to allies of the former home secretary.

Sunak agreed to a "four-point migration plan" in return for Braverman's backing as he sought to become leader of the Conservative Party last year, said The Telegraph

The deal allegedly included a pledge to raise the minimum salary required for a foreign skilled worker visa from £26,000 to £40,000, an end to graduate visas, restrictions on the number of dependents that legal migrants could bring to the UK, and plans to prioritise applicants from Russell Group universities for student visas.

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Sources close to Braverman told The Telegraph that while the deal was "not signed" by Sunak, it was "verbally agreed on multiple occasions" in front of witnesses, and that he left a meeting on the deal with a "physical copy of the document".

Braverman referenced the agreement in a scathing letter that followed her sacking as home secretary. She said she had agreed to serve in Sunak's cabinet because of "firm assurances" he had given her "on key policy priorities". 

Sunak's allies have disputed the claims, and speaking to MailOnline, the prime minister said: "Of course, you have conversations with people when you are in a leadership election and not just Suella." 

Deal is a 'constitutional issue'

The agreement allegedly reached between Sunak and Braverman over a future immigration policy is "unusual", said The Telegraph in its leading article. "Indeed, there is a constitutional issue here: policy is supposed to be made by the Cabinet," continued the paper. "A secret pact would show how far we have drifted from what was once considered the proper way of doing things."

Sunak has "sought to distance himself" from Braverman's claim of a "binding promise", turning the episode into "the latest skirmish of a party at war with itself", said the paper. 

But voters will want to know "less about a deal to seal the leadership" and more about why the government has seemingly "reneged on a solemn pledge" made by the Conservative Party in its 2019 manifesto, albeit under Boris Johnson.

'Dire' set of net migration figures

Details of the alleged deal between Sunak and Braverman have emerged days after the latest net migration figures were released by the Office for National Statistics. The figures showed that net migration into the UK reached a record 745,000 last year – three times higher than the levels seen before Brexit.

It is a "dire" set of figures for Sunak, who will be "unable to state at an election that his is the party of tough controls on migration", said Rowena Mason in The Guardian

The prime minister's tactic so far has been to "turn people's attention to the problem of people crossing in small boats" as well as claiming that his government's Rwanda scheme is being "thwarted" by the courts.

But the figures show that the "bulk of migration" is through legal channels, and has come from student, work and family visa routes, particularly those in the health and social care sector, as well as legal asylum routes from Ukraine, Afghanistan and Hong Kong, the paper noted. 

The figures "represent a challenge" for Sunak, "whose party has repeatedly promised to reduce the numbers during its 13-year stint in power", said the BBC's political editor Chris Mason. When asked about the figures on Monday, the prime minister said he was clear net migration was "too high" and it needed to "come down to sustainable levels".

Nevertheless, the emergence of an alleged deal represents "another unwelcome intervention" from Braverman at a time when Sunak is "under pressure from some restless Conservative MPs over net migration numbers".

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