Boris Johnson risks row with Theresa May over dropping students from net migration statistics

The Prime Minister has repeatedly fought off attempts to remove students from the figures

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Boris Johnson has risked igniting a row with Downing Street after revealing he believes international students should be exempt from the Government’s immigration figures.

Despite Theresa May repeatedly ruling out removing students from the net migration numbers – as Home Secretary and as Prime Minister – the Foreign Secretary insisted such students were “of massive benefit to this country”.

And as recent as October the Prime Minister refused to relax the rules after Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, claimed such a move could be in line with public opinion at a select committee hearing.

But speaking on ITV’s Peston on Sunday the Foreign Secretary said Britain is the “knowledge capital of the world” and said he “takes the view” students should not be included in the figures.

"You've obviously got to have limits, you've got to make sure – as Theresa has rightly said – when they come, they've got to be coming for a bona fide degree and they're not staying on without permission.

"That is totally reasonable. But don't forget that international students – I used to be shadow spokesman for higher education and even then the contribution was £5 billion from their fees to our higher education economy."

He added: “It's a great compliment to this country that, as Theresa and I have found virtually everywhere you go, the number one question people ask is 'How can I make sure my kids are going to be able to come to the UK and come to university here?'.

"Let me give you one statistic – of all the kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers in the world today, one in seven were educated in Britain.

"And there's no reason now – when you look at the talent coming to our universities – to think that that ratio will go down."

After his interview a Downing Street spokesperson told The Independent: “Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included.”

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