The next prime minister must distance himself from Theresa May‘s hardline immigration stance and scrap the discredited pledge to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands”, a new report has urged.
Research by the British Future think tank found broad support among both Leave and Remain voters for ditching the target in favour of individual targets for different groups, such as skilled workers and low-skilled workers.
More than seven out of 10 Tory voters would back such a move, and 60 per cent of the general public, in a sign that Ms May dogged defence of her controversial target was out of keeping with public opinion.
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt were urged to make a clean break with Ms May’s policies but both candidates face a “trust deficit” in the wake of controversies over the hostile environment policy and the treatment of the Windrush generation.
Sunder Katwala, director of British Future and co-author of the report, said: “Whichever candidate makes it to No 10, they will start with a major trust deficit on immigration, the legacy of Theresa May’s approach.
“People are fed up with the unkept promises and lack of accountability epitomised by the net migration target.
“The new prime minister must make a clean break and start to rebuild public confidence on immigration, setting out a new vision for immigration after Brexit.”
Mr Hunt has opposed the target – which The Independent has fought to end through our Drop the Target campaign - and insisted the a post-Brexit Britain will not become “Little England [that] pulls down the shutters and says, foreigners not welcome.”
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson has suggested an Australian-style points based system and said the UK must remain open to skilled migrants.
However, they face an uphill battle to get the public on board. Distrust was so deep that polling found Mr Johnson has lost the trust of 49 per cent of the public on immigration and trusted by 22 per cent – a net score of minus 27.
Fewer people said they distrusted Jeremy Hunt on immigration (41 per cent) but only 13 per cent say they trust him on the issue – a net score of minus 28.
Distrust in politicians is widespread, however, with no politician of any party securing a positive rating. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s trust rating on immigration is minus 37.
Only 18 per cent of people – and a quarter of Tory voters – think Ms May did a good job on managing immigration.
James Kirkup, director of the Social Market Foundation think tank and contributor to the report, said: “Anyone who leads Britain needs to have an honest conversation about immigration, its challenges and its benefits.
“That means an end to simple, headline-chasing promises and a new focus on the needs of Britain’s employers, regions and communities.”
The report proposes replacing the net migration target with a three-year migration plan, which is reviewed each year, and an annual “Migration Day” in parliament where ministers are held to account.
Source note: ICM interviewed a sample of 2,016 GB adults online between 31 May and 3 June. The results have been weighted
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies