General Election: Sunak and Starmer face key questions on migration ahead of ITV debate

Nigel Farage has launched his campaign to much fanfare but for the main party leaders all eyes are turning to Tuesday night's debate, ITV News Correspondent Amy Lewis reports

Words by Daniel Boal, ITV News Producer

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will go into the first head-to-head TV debate of the election campaign faced with difficult questions surrounding migration.

The Conservatives used their last day before the debate to announce a plan to cap visas available to migrants.

Dubbed a "hoping for the best" effort by Starmer, Tory plans would hope to regularly reduce net migration but didn't include figures on how many visas would be issued.

The Tories announced their migration plans the morning after Nigel Farage revealed he would be running for parliament and would be taking over from Richard Tice as the leader of Reform UK.

Despite the timing of the announcement, Home Secretary James Cleverly said that no other political party was dictating the Tories' migration policy.

General Election 2024: Must watch moments from Day 14 so far | Julie Etchingham will host the debate between the Labour and Conservative party leaders on ITV at 9pm

Farage also weighed in on migration, stating that the difference in numbers between people arriving and departing the UK should be reduced to zero.

Labour however, haven't announced how they will curb net migration, but did reiterate that current figures are "far-too high" and recognised numbers need to come down year-on-year.

After announcing his bid to run as an MP for the Essex constituency of Clacton, Farage was covered in what appeared to be a milkshake, mirroring a similar incident that happened to him in 2019.

He said: "We made an offer to the British people, we could get back our independence and control of our borders.

“But what has happened? The Conservatives have betrayed that trust. They’ve opened up the borders to mass immigration like we’ve never seen before.

“And they deserve to pay a price for that, a big price for that.”

ITV News at Ten Presenter Julie Etchingham will be chairing the first general election leaders' debate. Credit: ITV

Labour takes aim at Putin

Sir Keir Starmer said he was "looking forward" to the first TV debate, hosted on ITV1 and ITVX, while meeting with pensioners to discuss the cost of energy and talk about Labour’s plans for GB Energy.

On migration, Starmer dismissed Tory plans to cap visas, saying that the "government has lost control."

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer. Credit: PA

Speaking to reporters, Starmer said: "Net migration is far too high, this government has lost control. It’s more than twice as high as it was when we were in the EU, that’s the irony of it.

“This Prime Minister is actually, for all his tough talk, the most liberal prime minister when it comes to immigration, those numbers have gone through the roof.”

Following on from Monday’s focus on defence, Labour have pushed energy as a national security issue.

Starmer laid out party plans to set up a publicly owned clean energy company which will help to protect the UK from spikes in the price of fuel like those that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“With Great British Energy, my changed Labour Party will close the door on Putin,” Starmer said.

“Energy policy is now a matter of national security. It is a key component of our country’s resilience and capacity to weather future shocks.”

Conservatives crackdown on migrants

Home Secretary James Cleverly has been campaigning in the South East on Tuesday as he outlines the party’s plans that would give Parliament a direct role in setting levels of migration with MPs having a vote on the number.

Rishi Sunak has announced his party’s commitment to capping the number of visas in an effort to make migration numbers fall year on year in a future parliament.

The prime minister may have a renewed ambition to “stop the boats” after being photo bombed by a small boat full of Lib Dem campaigners, deputy party leader Daisy Cooper among them, on Monday.

Sunak said: “We have taken bold action to cut the number of people coming to this country. The plan is working but migration levels are still too high, so we are going further.

“Labour’s migrant amnesty will make the UK a global magnet for illegal immigrants and they have no plan to reduce net migration, while we have a clear plan to stop the boats and put a legal cap on numbers.”

Home Secretary James Cleverly meeting staff during a visit to Swain Group in Rochester, Kent. Credit: PA

Cleverly has denied that giving the Migration Advisory Committee a role in setting the level of the proposed visa cap amounted to passing the buck to a quango.

He told reporters in Kent: “What this is about is making sure we have a proper, balanced assessment of both the advantages and costs of migration.”

Comparing the process to votes on the budget, he said: “The government takes analysis, it makes policy and it is tested in a vote in Parliament.”

Liberal Democrats promise to care for carers

While the Liberal Democrats are not participating in the first televised debate, they will be continuing on their campaign trail.

On Monday, they promised action on an issue described as “deeply personal” for party Leader Sir Ed Davey, as they say day-to-day care for adults in need, including the elderly and disabled, would be free.

Provision of care should be based on need rather than ability to pay, the party said, as it promised what it described as free personal care for people either at home or in care homes.

This would cover nursing care, help with mobility, hygiene and medication, it said, adding that people in residential care would still have to contribute towards their accommodation.

Sir Ed said: “As a carer for my disabled son, and after caring for my ill mother when I was young, care is deeply personal for me.

“That is why I am putting fixing the care crisis at the heart of the Liberal Democrat offer to the country at this election.”

The party said its plan for England – based on the model introduced by the Lib Dems in government in Scotland in 2002 – would cost £2.7 billion a year by 2028-29 and would be “fully funded” by reversing tax cuts for the big banks since 2016.

The Lib Dems said their plan could also save the NHS up to £3 billion a year through reduced pressure on hospitals and other NHS services.

SNP say Tories are 'finished' and call for 'Westminster reset' on child poverty

First Minister John Swinney. Credit: PA

First Minister and SNP leader John Swinney has made a plea to Sir Keir Starmer, calling for him to commit to a "Westminster rest" when it comes to child poverty.

Declaring that the Tories are "finished", Swinney urged Starmer to meet with him to discuss shared goals - chief among which is ridding the UK of child poverty.

The Scottish government has regularly touted its actions to help struggling families, in particular pointing at the Scottish child payment scheme.

Mr Swinney said: “The SNP has a proud record of action – with transformative policies like the baby box, free school meals, free bus travel for under-22s and the game-changing Scottish child payment, which is contributing to keeping 100,000 children out of poverty in 2024/25."

Reform UK re-launch Farage

Although they held a campaign launch under former leader Richard Tice, the Reform party has a renewed drive as Nigel Farage took the helm of the party on Monday with plans to launch his candidacy in Clacton.

Potential for an open-top bus and music in the Essex seaside town promise to align with Mr Farage’s stated goal of adding some excitement to “the dullest, most boring election campaign we have ever seen in our lives”.

Farage has suggested his long-term aim was to effectively take over the Conservative Party and reduce net migration to zero.

He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain he could not stand for or seek to lead the Conservative Party “as they currently are”.

But he added: “You can speculate as to what’ll happen in three or four years’ time, all I will tell you is if Reform succeed in the way that I think they can, then a chunk of the Conservative Party will join us – it’s the other way around.”

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