Cabinet splits on foreign students re-emerge as Amber Rudd admits there are 'differing views'
Cabinet splits on whether foreign students should continue to be included in the immigration figures burst into the open again today when Amber Rudd acknowledged there were "differing views" on the matter.
The Home Secretary refused to say whether she backed the policy, and would only say it was "likely" to remain in place.
Her comments came shortly after Downing Street slapped down Boris Johnson by insisting overseas undergraduates would still be counted as migrants by the Government.
The Foreign Secretary re-opened the row yesterday by describing students from abroad who enrol at UK universities as "a massive benefit to this country" who should not be classed as immigrants in official statistics.
But the Prime Minister's official spokeswoman insisted Mrs May had not changed her long-held view that foreign students must be treated in the same way as other foreigners who move to Britain to live and work.
"She thinks students should and will continue to be part of the figures, and we remain committed to bringing down the numbers," said the spokeswoman.
"The Government has made a clear commitment to the British people about what we are seeking to do in terms of getting control of immigration and controlling numbers and it is important to continue with that approach as set out."
Answering questions in the Commons, Ms Rudd was twice asked whether she supported the Government's current approach.
She said: "Students play an important role in contributing to the economy and are most welcome in the UK.
"The internationally recognised definition of a migrant is someone coming here for over 12 months, so they are likely to stay within that definition - although I am aware there are different views on the matter."
Chancellor Philip Hammond was rebuked by No 10 in October after he also appeared to suggest foreign students should be removed from the immigration statistics.
He described as “very interesting” the findings of a recent poll showing only 24% of Britons consider international students immigrants.
Mr Hammond said: "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."
But Downing Street hit back: "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included."