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Rishi Sunak pinning hopes on migrant workers - but doesn't want to shout about it

Office for Budget Responsibility stats released with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement last week revealed net migration will rise from a March estimate of 129,000 in 2026 to 205,000.

Official figures show Rishi Sunak is pinning his hopes on migrant workers to plug 212,000 unfilled posts.


But the PM does not want to shout about it for fear of inflaming public opinion and antagonising his anti-immigration Home Secretary Suella Braverman.


Office for Budget Responsibility stats released with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt ’s Autumn Statement last week revealed net migration will rise from a March estimate of 129,000 in 2026 to 205,000.


And that made a mockery of former PM David Cameron ’s ambition to get numbers down to the tens of thousands repeated by Ms Braverman last month.


The increase in foreign workers will boost the size of the faltering economy by 0.6% by 2027.


But Tony Blair Institute policy director Ian Mulheirn said: “Whether that’s a story the government will want to put up in lights remains to be seen.


“Sunak and Hunt know that allowing migration to rise much higher than the tens of thousands promised by the Home Secretary will ease pressure on the economy and reduce the need for tax rises.”


Mr Sunak said he also wants to reduce migration but needs to focus on tackling Channel crossings first.


A Government spokesperson said: “The UK cannot rely solely on overseas labour.


“Employers must also make long term investments in the UK domestic workforce.”


Fresh Produce Growers


Growers are being urged to sign an NFU letter to the immigration minister highlighting concerns over visas for seasonal farm workers.


The letter calls for reassurances on the future of the seasonal workers scheme as the industry sees soaring energy costs and a lack of workers to pick crops.


The NFU says this is posing a 'serious threat' to the future of the UK’s fruit and vegetable industry.


The union's letter explains that securing sufficient seasonal labour remains an 'acute challenge' for the sector.


NFU data shows that shortages peaked at 40% in the spring and have averaged 15% across the year to date.


The letter, which is being sent to Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick, needs farmers and growers to sign it before 29 November.


NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw said there was a need for 'urgent clarity' on the number of visas amid concerns that government commitments would fall short of what was needed.


"The news that the Seasonal Workers Scheme is guaranteed to 2024 was a welcome boost for growers last year," he said.


"However, we remain concerned that the number of visas available are not sufficient to prevent further crop losses and a continued fall in UK production.


"We need urgent clarity on the scheme and a much more collaborative relationship between the Home Office and the NFU to find solutions."


The horticulture sector has been particularly impacted by workforce shortages, with UK fruit and vegetables, plants and flowers going unpicked.


The NFU's letter says this has led to a significant financial loss for British producers, as well as perfectly edible food being wasted.


While the government’s own food strategy includes an ambition for growth in horticulture, the letter warns that domestic production is currently falling at a worrying rate and is way below its potential.



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