There is confusion over whether the British government has abandoned its pledge to bring immigration down the “hundreds of thousands” after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said a concrete target would only “disappoint people again”.
Mr Johnson was speaking after Amber Rudd, the new Home Secretary, declined to reiterate the government’s commitment, saying only that levels must be “sustainable”.
“What the prime minister has said is that we must bring migration down to sustainable levels so that’s what is going to be my aim at the moment,” she said in an interview.
When pressed on whether the target had been scrapped, she replied: “I’m 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.”
Following on from those comments, Boris Johnson said: “The home secretary is entirely right to be careful about committing to numbers because one doesn’t want to be in a position where you’re disappointing people again.
“What is certainly possible post leaving the EU — and once we end our obligations under uncontrolled free movement — is to have a system of control and that is what we were talking about in the referendum campaign.”
Prime Minister Theresa May attempted to clarify the government’s position today, telling the House of Commons: “I also remain firm in my belief that we need to bring net migration down to sustainable levels, the Government believes that is tens of thousands.”
She added, however, that it would take “some time” to get there.
A spokeswoman for 10 Downing Street also said the target was still in place, saying: 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 Conservatives came to power with a pledge to reduce immigration, but during her six years as Home Secretary, Mrs May failed even to come close to this target, with migration rising to record levels.
Now Britain is leaving the EU, there are hopes it can end free movement rules and thus get migration back under control.