Downing Street plays down claims Theresa May to ditch tough immigration stance on overseas students

Number 10 told The Independent there will not be any change in approach

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Downing Street has attempted to play down claims that Theresa May is set to ditch her tough stance towards the inclusion of overseas students in immigration figures.

Number 10 made clear on Thursday morning that there is “no change” in the Prime Minister’s view that students should be counted as immigrants in public records.

The Independent first reported last week how pressure to remove students from official data has formed into a parliamentary rebellion, with further stories emerging this morning.

A string of cabinet ministers have also signalled their opposition to Ms May’s stance, with the Tory election manifesto now providing an opportunity to change tack.

But a Downing Street source told The Independent: “There is no change in Government policy and there will be no change.”

Reports this morning suggested Ms May could come to a compromise which would change the way student figures are calculated.

The Prime Minister has doggedly stuck to her position that students should be kept in the figures since her Home Office days, fearing voters could see it as an attempt to fiddle immigration data if they were pulled out.

But ministers in the previous and current administration, universities and business groups have all lobbied for them to be removed, pointing out the economic and cultural benefits they bring.

The issue was due to come to a head on Wednesday when MPs were to debate an amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill – removing students from the figures – that was passed by the House of Lords last month. 

Rebel Tories now claim they have enough support to inflict a humiliating defeat on Ms May, who is also being pressed by the likes of Chancellor Philip Hammond, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Some 134,000 foreigners came to Britain to study in the 12 months to last September, during which net migration totalled 273,000.

The Independent and the campaigning group Open Britain, the successor to the Remain camp in the EU referendum, have launched a Drop the Target campaign urging the Government to abandon its aim of lowering immigration to the tens of thousands. 

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