The Conservatives have quietly abandoned their pledge to cut annual net migration to “tens of thousands” because they have finally realised it is impossible, Nick Clegg will claim today.
In a scathing assessment of his Coalition partners’ handling of immigration, the Liberal Democrat leader accused them of being “fixated” of hitting the target to the exclusion of other policies such as tougher border controls.
His planned comments triggered a Coalition row, with the Tories denying the pledge had been scrapped and accusing Mr Clegg of blocking attempts to tighten the immigration system.
While in opposition, Mr Cameron said he would cut net migration to tens of thousands by the end of his first term in Government, which is now nine months away. The current number stands at 212,000.
The Deputy Prime Minister will today argue that the Coalition had been successful in turning around a system which was in “utter disarray”, but had been hindered by the Tory commitment.
“The Conservatives were completely fixated on the net migration target, and, specifically, their pledge to get it down to tens of thousands, a Tory rallying cry in opposition.
“I told David Cameron during the leaders’ debates and in the early part of Government: ‘You’ll never deliver it’. I made sure it wasn’t in the Coalition Agreement precisely because it’s unrealistic,” Mr Clegg will say.
“Thankfully the Conservatives have now softened their attachment to the net migration target and backed away from “tens of thousands.”
He will cite Mr Cameron’s failure to mention the target in a wide-ranging article last week in how best to tighten the system.
“They’ve realised they won’t deliver it and, bluntly, it’s made it much easier for us to get things done,” he will say.
He will argue swifter progress has now been made on introducing exit checks at all ports and airports, with 80 per cent of journeys now covered. If there is not total coverage by the next election, Mr Clegg will promise to include the commitment in the Lib Dem manifesto.
A Conservative source responded: “We remain committed to our target and have made great progress with non-EU migration. Nick Clegg’s comments are surprising as the Liberal Democrats have never previously raised concerns about controlling immigration. In fact, in private they have sought to block many of measures to control immigration that he’s now advocating.”