Theresa May's net migration target opposed by every senior minister, George Osborne reveals

Posted On: 
17th May 2017

Every senior minister in Theresa May's Cabinet is opposed to her aim of reducing net migration below 100,000 a year, George Osborne has revealed.

Theresa May and George Osborne were at odds over immigration when in government together.
PA Images

In an extraordinary revelation, the former Chancellor used the leader column in the Evening Standard - which he now edits - to outline the scale of the frontbench rebellion against the "economically illiterate" policy.

It suggests that the likes of Philip Hammond, Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and Amber Rudd are all at odds with the Prime Minister over the matter.

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David Cameron first made the pledge to reduce net migration - the difference between the numbers entering and leaving the UK - to the "tens of thousands" before the 2010 election, and repeated it again in 2015.

But the total has continued to far exceed that target, and the most recent figures put the level at 273,000.

During an election campaign visit last month, Mrs May said: "We want to see sustainable net migration in this country. I believe that sustainable net migration is in the tens of thousands."

Tory sources have also confirmed the policy will be contained in the party's general election manifesto, which will be launched tomorrow.

But the Standard editorial - which Mr Osborne made a point of tweeting - attacked the policy and said even the Prime Minister's most senior colleagues disagree with her.

It said: "It remains a mystery why the Prime Minister has recommitted her party to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands a year. She didn’t need to make this politically rash and economically illiterate move. She was not the author of the pledge; David Cameron made it in opposition. 

"She knows better than almost anyone that net migration - the number of people arriving, minus the number leaving - is not in the gift of government, subject as it is to the vagaries of the world economy. Moreover, this target has a perverse incentive, in that the more people you persuade to emigrate from the UK, the more likely you are to hit it. 

"So you would assume that Mrs May would jump at the chance to bury the pledge. That’s what her Cabinet assumed; none of its senior members supports the pledge in private and all would be glad to see the back of something that has caused the Conservative Party such public grief. But no. Mrs May has kept digging."

But the article also said it was not too late for the Prime Minister to have a change of heart.

"(Mrs May) knows that a sensible immigration policy is driven by clear principles, not arbitrary numbers. If one of those principles is no longer to be the freedom to move to work between Britain and Europe, we need to hear what its replacement will be.

"Recommitting to a failed immigration pledge, without knowing how to achieve it, is merely wishful thinking. She still wants to be a new broom. She should use the Tory manifesto tomorrow to sweep away this bad policy from the past."