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Next Prime Minister urged to dump 'failed' tens of thousands migration pledge

Next Prime Minister urged to dump 'failed' tens of thousands migration pledge
3 min read

The next Prime Minister has been urged to dump the "failed" pledge to reduce Britain's net migration to the tens of thousands.

Net migration to the UK is 1.4 million higher than it would have been if ministers had achieved their pledge to reduce it to under 100,000 a year, according to a new study by centre-right think tank, Onward.

The report, written by two former top advisors to Theresa May, urged the next Tory leader to adopt a "more detailed and transparent policy" post-Brexit rather than sticking with the "failed" 2010 target.

Mrs May has repeatedly refused to abandon the pledge - which has featured in each of the party's election manifestos since 2010 - despite non-EU net migration rising to 253,000 in 2018.

Instead, the group urged the next Prime Minister to instigate a "long-term Sustainable Immigration Plan" with specific commitments to reduce levels of low- and medium-skilled migration.

Ministers would then be responsible for presenting the plan to Parliament in the same way it does for its tax and spend agenda, with every Whitehall department expected to consider the potential impact that each of its new policies will have on migration figures.

Onward director and former deputy head of policy in Number 10, Will Tanner, said the current target was a "visible statement of failure".

"With net migration adding the equivalent of a city the size of Newcastle to the population each year, it is hardly surprising that the public no longer trust politicians on immigration.

"The tens of thousands target was once a powerful statement of intent but it has become a visible statement of failure," he said.

"The next Prime Minister must replace it with a firm system that forces business and Whitehall to continue to confront the trade offs involved in immigration, and holds Government's feet to the fire for deliver on its pledges."

The report also called for the creation of a new Office for Migration Responsibility in a bid to "keep ministers honest" about the impact of government forecasts and to provide independent assessments of migration trends.

Communities Secretary and former immigration minister James Brokenshire said it was right for the next government to "look again" at the policy.

"Immigration policy supports Britain's continued success story as a growing economy. Changes in skills needs or workforce shortages mean that we need to continue to attract people to come to the UK and be part of this positive vision. But there is a need for balance," he said.

"We have to do so in ways which recognise the cumulative pressures this can bring and the need for well integrated communities. Equally, we have to challenge ourselves to ensure we aren't using immigration as a simple fix to dealing with skills needs or structural issues within our labour market which require more systemic change."

Tory frontrunner Boris Johnson has already pledged to reform the UK's immigration system by introducing a "Australian style" points based system if he succeeds in his bid to become the next Prime Minister.

Mr Johnson said the overhaul would "restore democratic control of immigration policy" while also allowing ministers to be "much tougher on those who abuse our hospitality".

But former immigration minister Mark Harper said the next leader should consider the group's proposals before deciding on any future migration strategy.

"For too long the public have thought, and quite rightly too, that our politicians do not have their hands on the wheel when it comes to immigration policy," he said.

"This has to change, and as we leave the EU we will regain the ability to shape a migration policy that can control immigration from wherever in the world it comes."

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