Liam Fox lays bare Cabinet splits as he says foreign students should not be included in migration stats

Posted On: 
15th March 2017

Liam Fox has lifted the lid on bitter Cabinet splits as he defied Theresa May by calling for foreign students not to be included in migration figures.

Liam Fox at the Lords International Relations Committee
Parliament TV

The International Trade Secretary revealed there was an “ongoing argument” among senior ministers about the issue, as he underlined the value of higher education to the UK’s export economy.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has gone on the record and called for foreign students not to count towards the headline figure of net migration in the UK, while Chancellor Philip Hammond said the stats need to reflect “public perception” of immigration.  

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But the Prime Minister has remained steadfast in opposing any change to how the statistics are compiled, with No 10 responding to Mr Hammond’s comments last year by saying the Government is “categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included”.

Appearing before a committee of peers today, Dr Fox suggested he sympathised with the view of the Chancellor and Foreign Secretary.

“It’s an ongoing argument inside government and I’ve made my views on that clear in private to the Home Secretary,” he told the Lords International Relations Committee.

“I think there is a value for those who come and study in the United Kingdom. I 100% accept the point that they will be in many cases imbued by the values that they experience while they are here; many of them will go on to establish long-term relationships with the United Kingdom, understanding our institutions.”

His comments come days after the House of Lords passed an amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill supporting the removal of foreign students from the statistics.

The latest Office for National Statistics release showed the number of students coming to the UK dropped 41,000 in the year to September 2016.

The Government has stuck by its pledge to cut net migration below 100,000 – despite the most recent figure showing 273,000 more people came to the UK than left.

A total of 134,000 people came to the UK for long-term study, compared to the estimated 62,000 people who left the UK after originally arriving as students. 


Dr Fox also gave his strong backing to universities setting up satellite campuses in other countries.

“We should not underestimate the value of us actually exporting some of our capabilities – not least because those who are able to come to the United Kingdom are also those who are best off and our ability to widen the appeal and the reach of both our educational standards and the values that go with them could be accentuated, I think, by having further investment in country,” he said.

“It is one of the sectors in this country that shows the most appetite for being willing to do that and I think offers us huge opportunities to continue with that. I don’t see it as being one or the other [foreign students coming to the UK or overseas campuses]; I see them as very complementary.”