'Lots of MPs are hopping mad': Anger from Tory right over Sunak's family visa climbdown

The Conservative Party's future depends on whether it can resolve migration issues, one senior party member told ITV News. Credit: PA

It's never a good sign when a government has to quietly row back on a key policy. It's an even worse sign when it's done at the end of the day, during recess and right before Christmas. 

But that's exactly what ministers did Thursday night, when the Home Office confirmed - via an answer to a written parliamentary question - that the earnings threshold for family visas would not increase to £38,700 next year.

The new rules will see the threshold initially increased from £18,600 to £29,000 next spring and won't apply to individuals who already have a family visa. 

The prime minister confirmed that the higher threshold will be introduced in early 2025. 

In many ways, this latest U-turn was inevitable.

Rishi Sunak admitted last week that the government was looking at "transitional arrangements" following the widespread concern from charities and unions over the impact of the salary changes on British citizens with foreign spouses. 

I've spent the past few days hearing from families navigating the legal migration system who say they've been riddled with anxiety and worry about what they see as ever growing bureaucracy and hurdles from the Home Office.

One individual told me his future plans for his family were now in "tatters", another admitted that the uncertainty had had a detrimental effect on her mental health. 

Many MPs within the left of the Conservative party had voiced concerns over the practicality and morality of the policy, including chair of the foreign affairs committee Alicia Kearns who earlier this month described the initial proposals as "unconservative". 

Home Secretary James Cleverly announced a package of measures to curb legal migration in early December Credit: Jordan Pettitt/PA

As a result, the changes have been welcomed by a handful of MPs I have spoken to, although some have questioned why the decision took so long.

"As MPs we have to defend these policies - and this just looks bad," one Conservative told me. "If we came up with a proposal that worked we wouldn't have to u-turn like this."

But the government rowback has also sparked anger among the right of the party, who are now gearing up for yet another battle over legal migration in the new year. 

Jonathan Gullis, member of the New Conservatives Group, told ITV News that the decision risked damaging trust with voters and MPs, adding that he was hoping to table an urgent question once parliament returns in January to clarify from the government why these changes were made. 

Jonathan Gullis (left) had previously been considered a loyal supporter of former prime minister Boris Johnson. Credit: PA

This sentiment was echoed by many I spoke with today, who voiced irritation with the changes and the manner in which they were announced.

"Lots of MPs are hopping mad", one senior Tory told me.

"The communication on this has been badly handled," another said, arguing that ministers should have confirmed the new rules when parliament was sitting. 

"We've had some small wins - notably on inflation," one Conservative added. "But we have got to sort out this migration issue, the party's future depends on it". 

Having spent the past month trying to rally Conservatives behind his policies on legal and illegal migration, Mr Sunak may had hoped he had made some headway, especially after avoiding a Commons defeat on his Rwanda legalisation. 

But the growing backlash makes clear that uniting the party on this issue may be easier said than done. 

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