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The government’s plan to decrease net migration to the tens of thousands before the next election has come under scrutiny following the new home secretary, Amber Rudd’s statement saying she aimed to reduce it down to only “sustainable levels”.
As we previously reported on our blog, it was revealed that net migration to the UK was reaching close to record levels of 333,000 in 2015 and interestingly, Mrs Rudd’s side step to endorse the government’s plan has brought in to question that the target may soon be dropped by the new cabinet.
The new Prime Minister, Theresa May sparked mass debate during the EU campaign, making it clear she was distancing herself from David Cameron’s plan when she failed to mention it in her only campaign speech. During a television interview, she also raised the question of whether it would in fact be plausible to set a specific time period for the overall plan.
Following the first cabinet meeting, which was chaired by the new PM, Amber Rudd, during a BBC interview declined to endorse the precise target despite being specifically asked twice if the plan still existed. During the first attempt, Rudd was asked about her commitment to the tens of thousands future reduction, for which she replied, ‘Well, what the prime minister has said is that we must bring migration down to sustainable levels. So that is what is going to be my aim at the moment.’ Furthermore, when she was pushed on the subject and its continued existence, the Home Secretary said ‘I am going to stick to my comment which is about bringing it down to sustainable levels. That has to be the most important thing for the country.’
Later on, Boris Johnson, the new foreign secretary of the country, was question about Rudd’s comments and whether they meant the aim would be dropped. Boris replied my colleague was ‘entirely right to be careful about committing to numbers” because the government “does not want to be in a position where we are disappointing people again’.
A spokeswoman from Downing Street released a statement on behalf of the PM, playing down the speculation about if the target would be dropped, ‘The prime minister does see sustainable levels as down to the tens of thousands…Sustainable levels is an approach and a language that has been used repeatedly by the Home Office in the past. The prime minister has used it herself. There isn’t a change…The emphasis on ‘sustainable’ reflects the fact that this is about looking at what is the right level for our country, what communities across the country can cope with, pressure on public services, looking at all these issues.’
Rudd’s comments also caused after effects within political parties, causing the Labour party to seek a Commons statement over the future of the target, whilst the Lib Dem’s saw it as a clear sign that the aim would be dropped.
During a different TV interview during the referendum campaigners for ITV, Theresa May followed a similar stance as Rudd now has. She was quoted in saying ‘I still believe that we should have that goal of bringing immigration down to sustainable levels.’ However, May added, ‘What I have also discovered over the last six years is that this is somewhere where you’re constantly having to work at it, so you can’t just set a time period.’
The PM also warned the people that a pre-Brexit surge could further damage such a specific target, ‘We know, for example, if we’re looking ahead over the coming months and years once we get the issue of the EU negotiation sorted, the right deal for Britain, we may very well see in the run-up to that, people wanting to come here to the UK before that exit happens, so there are factors you can’t always predict what the timing and numbers of those will be.’
A contradiction in her belief however, can be draw from May’s previous argument of wanting to continue the net migration target and she has strongly resisted attempts by cabinet colleagues to dilute it by removing overseas students from the definition.