Prime Minister admits ‘number one’ thing people are most concerned about is illegal migration

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“I’m committed to getting migration down over time. But I want to be honest with people about the challenges we face, and I know that the number one challenge that people are concerned about right now is illegal migration.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he is spending most of his time tackling the ongoing migrant crisis as the government attempts to stem the flow of Channel crossings.

Speaking to GB News, the Prime Minister addressed concerns from the public about the alarming increase in migrants entering the UK.

Latest official figures from the Ministry of Defence show that 400 people crossed the Channel on Monday in eight small boats. One boat managed to land on a beach at St Margaret’s Bay near Dover.

It comes as Home Secretary Suella Braverman signed a £63 million deal with her French counterpart, to boost cross-Channel cooperation and the number of French police patrolling the beaches of Northwestern France.

Overall figures show that 42,138 people have now crossed the Channel since the beginning of January this year.

In the whole of last year, 28,526 people crossed from France to the UK in small boats.

Mr Sunak, speaking to GB News’ Political Editor Darren McCaffrey, said: “Government policy and my policy is we want to reduce net migration.

“I’m not going to put an arbitrary number on it because I want to be honest with people.

“Right now, our number one challenge is getting a grip on the number of illegal migrants coming, that’s the thing I want to focus on first.

“It’s what the British public want us to focus on. Our deal with the French this week is the first in a series of things we’ll need to do.

“People should rest assured that this is a huge priority for me and taking up a lot of my time.”

Earlier this week, critics claimed the UK’s deal with France to curb Channel crossings does not match the scale or urgency of the crisis and is “recycling the same failed response”.

Mr Sunak continued: “I’m committed to getting migration down over time. But I want to be honest with people about the challenges we face, and I know that the number one challenge that people are concerned about right now is illegal migration. And I made a commitment that I want to reduce the amount of illegal migration​.​ ​

“I​t’s the thing that I’ve spent most of my time on outside of helping the ​Chancellor prepare for the Autumn statement. And people, I think, are starting to see the fruits of some of that work with our new deal with the French, which is something that I prioritised in my early conversations with President Macron. I’m glad that that dialogue has led to a deal and that is going to help us but it’s not a silver bullet.

“The government’s policy, and my policy, are that we will want to reduce net migration over time, but I don’t want to put an arbitrary number on it.

“But I want to be honest with people and I think right now our number one challenge is getting a grip of the number of illegal migrants coming and that’s the thing I want to focus on first. I think that’s what, by the way, the British public, rightly​,​ want us to focus on​. ​​​​Our deal with the French this week is the first in a series of things that we’ll need to do, but people should rest assured that this is a huge priority for me, it’s taking up rightly, a good chunk of my time because I want to grip it, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to fix this problem.”

Ahead of the Autumn statement, Mr Sunak also refused to be drawn on what would happen to the triple lock on pensions.

After being reminded it formed part of the last Tory Manifesto he said: “Well, since that manifesto, we have had a once in a century pandemic that blew an enormous hole in the public finances. And we’ve also had a war in Ukraine that has driven inflation globally, globally, up to very high levels, the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades.

“I think most people acknowledge that that’s had an impact on us here in the UK. We’re here talking to other leaders in Indonesia at the G20 Summit. We’re not alone in facing these challenges, but what I can reassure people is that on Thursday, people will be able to see that we will have put fairness and compassion at the heart of all the decisions that we’re making as we resolve this challenge. I’m confident that they will see that we strive to do that.”

READ THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE:

Darren McCaffrey (Interviewer) 

Okay, first of all, Prime Minister, we talked an awful lot in the last couple of days about illegal migration or legal migration. Is it the government’s target to get net migration down to tens of thousands?

Rishi Sunak (Prime Minister)

Well, I’m committed to getting migration down over time. But I want to be honest with people about the challenges we face, and I know that the number one challenge that people are concerned about right now is illegal migration. And I made a commitment that I want to reduce the amount of illegal migration​.​ ​I​t’s the thing that I’ve spent most of my time on outside of helping the ​Chancellor prepare for the autumn statement. And people, I think, are starting to see the fruits of some of that work with our new deal with the French, which is something that I prioritised in my early conversations with President Macron. I’m glad that that dialogue has led to a deal and that is going to help us but it’s not a silver bullet.

Darren McCaffrey 

On legal migration, the Home Secretary thinks that should be down to tens of thousands. Your Home Secretary thinks it should be down to tens of thousands. Do you think it should …​?​

Rishi Sunak

The Government’s policy, and my policy, are that we will want to reduce net migration over time, but I don’t want to put an arbitrary number on it. But I want to be honest with people, and I think right now our number one challenge is getting a grip on the number of illegal migrants coming, and that’s the thing I want to focus on first. I think that’s what, by the way, the British public, rightly​,​ want us to focus on​. ​​​​Our deal with the French this week is the first in a series of things that we’ll need to do, but people should rest assured that this is a huge priority for me, it’s taking up rightly, a good chunk of my time, because I want to grip it, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to fix this problem.

Darren McCaffrey  

Now it’s very warm here but it’s getting increasingly cold finally back home. We’re looking at minus zero. Are you encouraging people to use less energy?

Rishi Sunak 

There are particularly elderly people who are vulnerable to the cold, and that’s why we ​, in part of our system​,  have​ something called a cold weather payment that provides extra financial support to vulnerable people at times of extremely cold weather. It’s right that we do that. But what I would say is, we prioritise​d​ getting extra support, particularly vulnerable people over the winter earlier this year and I’m glad that we did that because it’s the right thing to do.

Darren McCaffrey 

But just on this point where pretty much every European government is saying, You know what, guys, this winter turned on the thermostat. That’s a conservative thing to do to conserve energy when it’s very high. Are you encouraging people back home to do that where possible this winter?

Rishi Sunak  

Yeah, I think that people are going to make their own decisions. But I think the thing that people are struggling with most at the moment, it’s high bills, right? So, if there are things that we can do, all of us, to improve the efficiency with which we use energy, to be careful about it,​ that’s what people are doing everywhere, because that’s also helpful for reducing bills. It has the extra by-product of increasing our energy security, but my priority is making sure that we support people who need our help with bills over the ​W​inter. That’s what we’re doing. That’s what the government will continue to do. And then over the long term, we need to have greater energy security at home so we’re never in this problem again. That means investing in things like nuclear and offshore wind to build up our resilience. That’s what we’ll deliver.

Rishi Sunak 

Will you keep the triple lock on pensions?

Rishi Sunak  

You wouldn’t expect me to comment on specific measures just two days before the Autumn statement.

Darren McCaffrey

Prime Minister, the point is that when you stood on the steps of Downing Street, you said essentially your mandate only came from a manifesto, not elected by the public, not elected by members, elected by MPs. It comes from the manifesto of 2019. The manifesto was very clear. Triple lock pension is in place. It’s very clear about no income tax rises and no National Insurance rises. Why is this even a discussion? Your mandate comes with a manifesto. You stood on that manifesto. It shouldn’t be on the table.

Rishi Sunak ​

Well, since that manifesto, we also have had a once in a century pandemic that blew an enormous hole in the public finances. And we’ve also had a war in Ukraine that has driven inflation globally, globally, up to very high levels, the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades. I think most people acknowledge that that’s had an impact on us here in the UK. We’re here talking to other leaders in Indonesia at the G20 Summit. We’re not alone in facing these challenges, but what I can reassure people is that on Thursday, people will be able to see that we will have put fairness and compassion at the heart of all the decisions that we’re making as we resolve this challenge. I’m confident that they will see that we strive to do that. When you look at everything that we’re doing in the round.

Darren McCaffrey 

We can understand that people are looking ahead in the next election if you would have put forward a manifesto and you don’t keep these commitments and people will question well, what’s the point of actually when you specifically said it was your mandate?

Rishi Sunak​ ​

You’re speculating, speculating about what may or may not happen. What I can tell you is on Thursday, what we will do is make the decisions that are necessary to get a grip of inflation, to limit the increase in mortgage rates. And that means getting our borrowing and debt under control. We’re being honest with people that that’s not going to be easy. It would be wrong not to be upfront about that. But we will make those decisions with fairness and compassion at the heart of our approach. And I’m confident that people on Thursday will see that that’s what we have strived to do.

Darren McCaffrey  

​O​n China, are you going soft on China because many of…

Rishi Sunak  

China represents a systemic challenge to our values and interests. It also represents the biggest state based threat to our economic security. That’s why it’s right that we take the steps that are necessary to protect ourselves against that​.​ ​O​ur approach is aligned with our closest allies like America, like Canada, like Australia, I’m here at this summit talking to those leaders about our approach to China and I’m confident that the way we are dealing with it is very much in accordance with how they are too. Our language and approach to China, the approach and language that I’ve set out, is in complete alignment with our closest allies, with the United States, with Australia, with Canada. So I don’t think anyone can look at that and say somehow we’re out of sync or we’re not taking this challenge seriously enough. Of course we are. And we’re addressing it in exactly the same way as countries like America, Canada and Australia. And that’s the right thing for the UK to be doing.

Darren McCaffrey

Okay, and finally, the quickfire round, everyone. Hopefully, it’s a little bit of fun as well. What’s your favourite band?

Rishi Sunak  

My favourite band is probably the Beatles

Darren McCaffrey  

What do you prefer? I’m a Celebrity or Strictly Come Dancing.

Rishi Sunak  

I wish I had time to actually watch some TV at the moment but…of the two, Strictly.

Darren McCaffrey 

Okay, which G20 leader do you most admire?

Rishi Sunak 

Probably the safe thing is not to answer that question given I’m about to go and have dinner with all of them tonight. Look, I’m here getting to know most of them. Many of them I’m meeting for the first time. I think what’s important is that we can have constructive dialogues with leaders that can make a difference for people at home. The whole point that I want people to take away actually is that there’s a value in having these dialogues. And I think people saw that after I started talking to President Macron about our relationship. I spoke to him about illegal migration and actually relatively quickly we’ve got a new deal to tackle illegal migration. That’s the value of these summits. That’s the value of having good relationships not just with one but with many leaders.

Darren McCaffrey  

If it was coffee or Coca Cola?

Rishi Sunak

Obviously, Coca Cola.

Darren McCaffrey

And Nando’s or Pizza Express?

Rishi Sunak

Nando’s.

Darren McCaffrey

Finally, how do you relax, Prime Minister?

Rishi Sunak

Spending time with my two daughters.

Darren McCaffrey

Thank you, Prime Minister, thank you.

Credit: GB News

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