The Conservatives’ election campaign has been pitched into chaos by the Brexit Secretary almost immediately countering an immigration target pledge made by the prime minister, saying that it was unlikely to be met.
Quizzed on the retention within the Tory manifesto of a pledge to reduce net immigration to below 100,000 on BBC2’s Daily Politics, Policing Minister Brandon Lewis said: “We want to see migration levels come down to sustainable levels, which we think is tens of thousands, over the course of the next Parliament,” meaning the pledge would have to be met within the next five years.
Theresa May stood by his comments during a Q&A on Thursday afternoon, telling journalists: “We’re working to bring immigration down to the tens of thousands, but having been there as home secretary for six years, this isn’t something that you can just produce the magic bullet that suddenly does everything – what you have to do is keep working at it.”
Yet just hours later, David Davis told BBC1’s Question Time: “We can’t promise it within five years.
“That wasn’t actually in the manifesto, it was ‘we will bring it down’, we didn’t say, we didn’t put a date.
“We would like to do it in the Parliament but I think, you know, it will be dictated by a number of things.
“The economy, the speed with which we can get our own people trained up to take the jobs, the changes in the welfare to encourage people to work.
“A whole series of things which were designed to ensure this is an economically successful policy.”
The Party has denied there is any confusion, insisting: “We have always been clear that it is our ambition to bring net migration down over time”, but the conflicting comments were seized on by the Conservatives’ opponents.
Brian Paddick, the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesman, responded: “Theresa May and David Davis can’t both be right – which one is telling us the truth? This is a ludicrous policy that would cause enormous damage to our economy and devastate our public services like the NHS who rely on migrant workers.
“Theresa May as home secretary continuously failed to meet this target, a pattern she has continued in Number 10.
“This is pure immigration chaos for the Conservatives.”