Damian Green slaps down Ruth Davidson on call for rethink on immigration target
Damian Green has rejected Ruth Davidson’s call for the Conservatives to rethink their commitment to cut net migration to beneath 100,000 per year.
Scottish Tory leader Ms Davidson questioned a number of the Government’s policies as she called for a “rational discussion”, rather than “easy slogans”, about the pros and cons of immigration.
As well as challenging the tens of thousands figure, she also called for international students to be removed from the net migration figures and suggested they should be allowed to stay longer after their studies to find work.
But Mr Green, who as First Secretary of State is effectively Theresa May’s second-in-command, argued the Brexit vote showed people wanted to cut the numbers of people coming to Britain – and that the Conservatives should “respect that”.
On a visit to Edinburgh, he said: “The overall purpose of the Government's immigration policy is to have immigration at sustainable levels, we do need to identify that as being in the tens of thousands.
“It is clear that one of the forces behind the Brexit vote was a feeling in some parts of the UK that immigration had been allowed to be too high for too long, and I think we should respect that.
“One of the things that needs to go alongside immigration policy is a successful skills policy so we can up-skill our own workforce to make sure that if there are jobs that previously Scottish workers have not done, let's make those jobs available to Scottish.
“We're not going to stop immigration overnight, nobody has ever suggested that, that's never been UK Government policy and it won't be UK Government policy.”
He added that he agreed with Ms Davidson’s call for a “rational debate”, and said her views were “extremely interesting”.
Mr Green also dismissed the Scottish Government’s call for greater powers over immigration after the UK leaves the European Union.
Since introducing the 100,000 goal in their 2010 manifesto, Conservative-led governments have never come close to meeting their commitment, with the latest net migration figures putting immigration 248,000 higher than emigration.
The Scottish Conservatives’ political opponents have seized on Mr Green’s comments to claim that Ms Davidson has little influence over the direction of the UK-wide party.
SNP MSP Joan McAlpine said: “This just shows how little authority Ruth Davidson has – she can make a lot of noise but nobody’s listening.”
And Labour’s Shadow Scotland Office minister Paul Sweeney added: “The Tories are in open warfare and this further intervention from Damian Green on his visit to Scotland goes to show how divided they are.
“We face an ageing population in the future, with only a marginal growth in the working-age population, yet all the Tories are concerned about is an arbitrary immigration cap.”