No 10 slaps down Philip Hammond over foreign student comments

Posted On: 
20th October 2016

Downing Street has stamped down on speculation fuelled by Philip Hammond that foreign students could be excluded from immigration statistics.

Theresa May and Philip Hammond are at odds over foreign students
Carl Court/PA Wire

The Chancellor yesterday said net migration figures should reflect “public perception” – interpreted as an indication that he was open to changing the methodology.

He also described as “very interesting” the findings of a recent poll showing only 24% of Britons consider international students as immigrants.

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A Downing Street spokesman further fuelled speculation of a government U-turn this morning when he said all aspects of migration policy were now "under review".

But No 10 made clear this afternoon that there would be no change in policy as far as foreign students are concerned.

"The Government objective is to reduce annual net migration to the tens of thousands, and in order to deliver this we are keeping all visa routes are under review,” said a Downing Street spokesman.

"Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included."

When she was in charge at the Home Office, Mrs May oversaw a number of measures to make it more difficult for international students to remain in the UK after their course had finished.

Her successor Amber Rudd said at the recent Conservative party conference that a further crackdown was coming down the track.

It comes despite warnings from the higher education sector that their financial viability depends in no small part on international students, protestations about the potential damage to UK universities’ global standing and the country’s soft power, and evidence that the public does not want to cut the number of non-British students.

Mr Hammond was asked about the possibility of excluding foreign students from the net migration figures when he appeared in front of the Treasury Committee yesterday.

He replied: “My view is this is a question of public perception and the public’s view. Clearly immigration and the level of net migration is an issue of concern.

“The question we should be asking is ‘what does the public understand should be included within that definition?’. It’s not whether politicians think one thing or another, it’s whether the public believe it.”

The latest spat between No 10 and No 11 Downing Street come amid tensions over Britain's exit from the EU, with hardline Brexiteers briefing that the Chancellor is taking too soft a line on immigration and the single market.