Blow for Theresa May as senior Tory MPs threaten rebellion over inclusion of foreign students in immigration figures
Theresa May is facing a fresh rebellion after six senior Tory MPs said they will back moves to remove foreign students from immigration figures.
According to the Evening Standard, select committee chairs Nicky Morgan, Bob Neill and Tom Tugenhadt are among those urging the Prime Minister to u-turn on her long-standing opposition to the idea.
Other potential rebels include rising star Johnny Mercer and former minister Stephen Hammond, who was sacked by Mrs May as Tory party vice-chairman last month for voting against the Government on the EU Withdrawal Bill.
Mrs May has always resisted attempts to remove foreign students from the immigration figures - despite many Cabinet ministers, including Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, backing the move - and this week Downing Street insisted her position had not changed.
But critics say the policy sends out the wrong message to international undergraduates, and fails to take account of the economic contribution they can make to the UK during their studies.
MPs will debate the Immigration Bill in March, and the Prime Minister faces the prospect of another humiliating Commons defeat if she does not back down.
Former Education Secretary Ms Morgan, who is chair of the Treasury Select Committee, told the Evening Standard: “I’ve been calling for a long time now for students to be taken out of the immigration numbers.
"I represent a hugely successful international university which has a big positive impact on our local economy so needs overseas students — but also, how do we expect to build positive relations with India and China if they think their students aren’t welcome?”
Foreign Affairs Committee chair Tom Tugenhadt said: "The brightest and best coming here to study and then go home with a wonderful experience of the UK and friends that will last a lifetime — that doesn’t seem to be something we would want to prevent.”
Justice Committee chair Bob Neill said: “It makes absolute sense that we should recognise that the vast majority of students do return home. The UK as a whole, and London in particular, benefits hugely from having top-quality students."
Ms Wollaston, who is chair of the Health Select Committee, also indicated that she would vote for an amendment which would remove international students from the immigration figures.
Earlier this week, it also emerged that the 13 Scottish Conservative MPs are also pressuring Downing Street to change its stance.
Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson tweeted: "Including students in the figure is distortive, counterproductive and sends out entirely the wrong signals. I hope this change happens soon.”
One senior Tory told PoliticsHome: "There are some issues where the Government just needs a nudge to help them get to where most of them want to go."
But Number 10 Downing Street indicated that Mrs May’s position had not changed, with a spokesman saying: "The position of the Prime Minister on this is clear. The international definition of an immigrant is someone who arrives for a period of more than 12 months."