Brexit: Boris Johnson rips up Theresa May’s immigration plan and refuses to set limits on new arrivals

New prime minister also backs amnesty for undocumented migrants, acknowledging ‘perhaps half a million people’ could win right to stay

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 25 July 2019 17:35 BST
Boris Johnson holds his first cabinet meeting

Boris Johnson has ripped up Theresa May’s plans for immigration after Brexit – including her infamous pledge to slash annual numbers to “tens of thousands” – and ordered officials to explore more liberal rules.

In his first Commons statement, the new prime minister said advisers would work up plans for “an Australian-style points-based system”, declining to set any limit on migrants.

The announcement is a victory for The Independent's Drop the Target campaign launched in April 2017, with the Open Britain group, for the “tens of thousands” policy to be scrapped.

Mr Johnson also repeated his support for an amnesty for existing migrants without documents, acknowledging it could see “perhaps half a million people” gaining the right to remain in the UK.

His announcement of a review cast huge doubt on the government’s existing immigration bill, which is meant to prepare the UK for life after Brexit and end free movement of EU citizens.

It has been attacked for leaving businesses, the NHS and other employers in the dark about a mooted £30,000 salary threshold – a significant clampdown – after cabinet infighting.

In the Commons, Mr Johnson made no mention of the bill, instead telling MPs: “No one believes more strongly than me in the benefits of migration to our country.

“I am clear that our immigration system must change. For years, politicians have promised the public an Australian-style points-based system.

“And today I will actually deliver on those promises – I will ask the migration advisory committee (MAC) to conduct a review of that system as the first step in a radical rewriting of our immigration system.”

It is the MAC which is supposed to be conducting an “extensive 12-month programme of engagement” with business leaders about the implications of the £30,000 limit.

Other deferred decisions include what benefits EU citizens will be entitled to, whether the pensions of British expats will be updated and new rules for students.

However, the prime minister gave no clues as to how his Australian-style points-based system will work. It was first proposed by the Vote Leave campaign, but dumped by Ms May for being too lax.

Already effectively used for migrants coming from outside the EU, many believe it will fail to cut the numbers coming to the UK if based on education levels, or needs for skills.

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrats home affairs spokesperson, accused Mr Johnson of a “completely meaningless” announcement, without detail.

“Instead of a plan to fix our immigration system, Johnson is commissioning yet another pointless review,” he said.

“Given that he intends to end EU free movement in just a few months, it’s unacceptable that we still don’t know what he’ll replace it with. Individuals and employers need certainty.”

Mr Johnson first proposed an amnesty for illegal immigrants as mayor of London and confirmed he still advocated it.

“It did not receive an overwhelming endorsement from the previous prime minister when I raised it in cabinet,” he told MPs.

He added: “We need to look at our arrangements for people who have lived and worked here for a long time, unable to enter the economy, unable to participate properly or pay taxes without documents.”

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