Amber Rudd has hinted that the Conservatives might drop their target to reduce net migration below 100,000 a year in their general election manifesto.
The Home Secretary suggested that she was personally in favour of abandoning the goal first set by David Cameron in the run-up to the 2010 election.
Theresa May reaffirmed her commitment to the target last month but several cabinet ministers believe it will never be achieved and want to see it omitted from the manifesto. It appears they include Ms May's successor as Home Secretary.
One compromise for resolving the battle over the manifesto would be for it to pledge to bring down net migration to a sustainable level without putting a number on it. Ms May would then say in media interviews that she had always believed such a level was in the “tens of thousands”. But she could not be accused of failing to hit the Conservatives’ formal target if it were not reached by the following election.
Asked whether the manifesto would restate the target, Ms Rudd told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics programme: “It's not going to be identical to the last one. We're setting it out for hopefully for a five-year term, we've got a lot to think through to work out what's the best way to deliver on our priorities.
“My personal view is we need to continue to bring immigration down. I want to make sure that we do it in a way that supports businesses – you know we're ending freedom of movement when we leaving the EU.”
The Home Secretary said the situation had changed because of the decision to leave the EU “so it’s right that we look at it again”.
She said the Government would consult business this summer about the skilled and unskilled EU migration it would need after Brexit, and would be urging it to recruit more British workers. “Of course immigration is good for this country, is good for business has been absolutely positive for the country overall, and we will want to continue that,” she said. “We will continue it though in a way that doesn't allow for straightforward freedom of movement, which is what we've been having in the EU and which has caused such disquiet in some communities.”
Ms Rudd played down the likely impact of excluding foreign students from net migration figures, as some cabinet ministers are urging. “It's a complete red herring to talk about taking students out of those numbers and it making a big impact,” she said.
The Independent and the Open Britain group are running the Drop the Target campaign urging the Government to abandon the “tens of thousands” goal.
Joe Carberry, co-executive director of Open Britain, said: “There is no justification for a migration target that, if ever met, would deny our economy of the skills and talent our businesses need. Any migration policy should be based on need not numbers. Whether in our NHS, farming, manufacturing or hospitality, the services and sectors we rely on would all be harmed if there were heavy restrictions on EU nationals coming to the UK. The Government should drop its divisive target and instead do more to promote and recognise the vital and necessary contribution EU nationals make.”
Ukip, which will launch its immigration policy tomorrow, accused the Tories of being “completely at sea” on the issue and lacking the will to deliver the verdict of last year’s referendum.
John Bickley, Ukip’s immigration spokesman, said: “Either they maintain their policy created by Theresa May of tens of thousands, a promise they have failed to deliver in seven years, or they drop it and admit that they have no intention to deliver what the country demands. The Tories are so in hock to their big business multinational corporate chums that they would rather see wages for working people in this country driven down by mass migration rather than acting to control immigration in the best interests of this nation. It is only Ukip who are serious about delivering concrete measures to control immigration.”
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