Theresa May’s immigration policy has been accused of being in “chaos” after she signalled she wanted to achieve the contentious target before 2022 – only to be undermined by her Brexit Secretary hours later.
While the Conservative manifesto – published last month – only goes as far as stating the pledge to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands as the party’s “objective”, the Prime Minister said at a campaign rally she “would be working” to achieve the target by 2022.
But on Thursday evening her Cabinet colleague David Davis, who was asked about the pledge as he appeared on BBC’s Question Time, said: “That wasn’t actually in the manifesto, it was ‘we will bring it down’, we didn’t say, we didn’t put a date… [it’s] the aim, yes, but we can’t promise within five years, that’s the point.”
Caroline Lucas, the leader of the Green party, seized on the apparent confusion as evidence of “chaos”. In a speech later, Ms Lucas will add: “Behind the Tories hardline rhetoric on migration is the chaos of a policy that’s unworkable, economic illiterate and utterly short-sighted. It’s not wonder that Ministers are backing away from this foolhardy net migration target.“
Ms May told reporters as she travelled around Yorkshire on the Conservative battle bus that the party is “working to bring immigration down to the tens of thousands.”
She continued: “But having been Home Secretary for six years, this isn’t something that you can just produce the magic bullet that suddenly does everything.
“What you have to do is keep working at it. It's a consistent working at it.
”You have to make sure that people aren't finding other ways, not to put too fine a point on it, to abuse the system, I mean that's one of the things we've had to do over the first few years was get a lot of the abuse out of the system.“
Earlier on Thursday, Brandon Lewis, the Home Office minister, told BBC’s Daily Politics programme that the pledge would be “over the course of the next parliament”.
When asked if that meant levels down to tens of thousands in five years' time, he replied: “Over the course of the next parliament, yes.”
According to an editorial ran by the former Chancellor George Osborne, who is now Editor of the London Evening Standard, none of the senior members of the Cabinet support the pledge privately and said retaining it was “economically illiterate”.
One report by the new think-tank Global Future, suggests that reducing immigration to 100,000 or lower could have a “catastrophic consequences” for the British economy and derided Ms May’s policy as “backward looking”.
It added that a net migration figure in excess of 200,000 – double the Government’s target – is required to “avoid collapse of whole sectors” and alleviate pressures on the NHS and social care.
The Prime Minister added at the rally: “The reason why we want to bring net migration down to sustainable levels, which we have set at the tens of thousands, is because of the impact that immigration has when it's too fast and too high an uncontrolled on people.
“And it does have an impact on people, particularly at the low end of the income scale, in depressing wages at the lower end of the income scale.
“It can displace jobs and it puts pressure on public services.”
The Independent and the Open Britain group are running the Drop the Target campaign urging the Government to abandon the “tens of thousands” goal.
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