David Cameron has said he will not “cave in” as he pursues his “relentless drive” to control immigration.
In a move designed to distract from embarrassing new figures that reveal net migration levels have reached near-record levels despite a pledge to cut them to the "tens of thousands" in 2010, Mr Cameron announced a range of measures attempting to crack down on immigration numbers.
Among the plans, Mr Cameron confirmed he would set up a new Immigration Taskforce to ensure a “significant” reduction in professionals whose skills are deemed by the Migration Advisory Committee to be in short supply – in order to encourage sectors which are "over-reliant" on migrants to train more Britons.
Earlier, the Office for National Statistics announced that net annual migration to Britain has leapt to 318,000, just 2,000 below the highest figure on record. The figures estimated that net migration – the difference between those arriving and those leaving - stood at 318,000 in the calendar year of 2014 – a rise of 109,000 since 2013.
There were sharp increases in new arrivals both from the European Union and outside the EU in a fresh setback for David Cameron’s pledge to cut immigration sharply.
Outlining new measures to curb immigration, the Prime Minister said: “Today's figures show how far we have to go to reach our goal.
“They show that, more than ever, this country needs a majority Conservative Government which really aims to get net migration into the tens of thousands, and that should remain our ambition.”
The Prime Minister laid blame his former Coalition partners the Lib Dems - and former Business secretary Vince Cable in particular – over previous failures to curb immigration.
“Frankly, in the last government, the Home Secretary was very keen on controlling immigration, I was very keen on controlling immigration, but sometimes when we got to the Department for Business, we got a rather unwelcome response," he said.
Ahead of the 2010 election Mr Cameron made a “no ifs, no buts” promise to reduce the figure to tens of thousands by 2015. That has now been downgraded by the Conservatives to an “ambition” and an “aim”.
Speaking at the Home Office, he detailed a package of measures aimed at driving down the headline total and reassuring voters of the new Government’s determination to toughen its approach to immigration.
He announced moves to reduce “significantly” the number of visas issued to skilled migrants.
The Migration Advisory Committee, which rules on skill shortage occupations, will be asked to consult on moves to toughen its rules and limit the period of time a profession can be on the list in order to employers to step up efforts to recruit Britons.
Mr Cameron said the UK had to improve training of its home-grown workforce so that “we only bring in workers from outside Europe where we have genuine skills shortages or require highly-specialist experts”.
He confirmed that an Immigration Bill in next week's Queen's Speech will contain moves to give police powers to confiscate the wages of illegal migrants, require councils to crack down on landlords renting out rooms to them and force banks to check account-holders are in the country legally.
He also announced the creation of a new Immigration Taskforce, chaired by the Prime Minister, which will hold every part of government to account for playing its part in a “relentless drive to properly control immigration”.
Ahead of the launch of talks to forge a new deal over Britain’s relationship with the European Union, he said “changes to welfare to cut EU migration will be an absolute requirement in my renegotiation”.
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