“The risk with both proposals is that neither will deliver net migration control: points-based systems typically increase net migration and the abolition of the target with no alternative will release pressure on Whitehall,” it said. Speaking during a Tory leadership head-to-head online, Mr Johnson said he would “take back control” of immigration but refused to put a figure on future levels. He said: “I’m not going to get into a numbers game.” Mr Hunt said failing to find a way to bring down overall migration numbers would mean “betraying the spirit” of the referendum.
“I actually agree with Boris about taking back control. But people also voted with the expectation that overall levels of net migration would come down,” he added.
The report, backed by former immigration ministers James Brokenshire and Mark Harper, calls for the migration target to be scrapped but urged the Government to focus instead on cutting levels of lower-skilled workers heading to Britain.
Reducing the net figure to the tens of thousands has been the Government’s goal since 2010 but numbers of migrants have since gone up by the equivalent of a city the size of Newcastle each year.
The Onward report says the target has failed to cut migration or restore public confidence that ministers mean what they say.
Downing Street last night insisted Theresa May, who was home secretary when the policy was introduced, stood by the objective. The report found net migration to the UK was 1.4 million higher than it would have been if the Government had met its target between 2010 and 2018. Mr Brokenshire, who is now Communities Secretary, said the Government should “look again” at the targets.
“Immigration policy supports Britain’s continued success story as a growing economy,” he said. “Changes in skills needs mean that we need to continue to attract people to come to the UK and be part of this positive vision.
“But there is a need for balance.
“We have to do so in ways which recognise the cumulative pressures this can bring and the need for well-integrated communities.”
The report calls for a new Office for Migration Responsibility to act as a watchdog monitoring the Government’s record.
It said that since the target was set, immigration has never fallen below 177,000 in a single year – and last year stood at 253,000.
Mr Harper, who stood for the Tory leadership, said: “For far too long the public have thought, and quite rightly too, that our politicians do not have their hands on the wheel when it comes to immigration policy.
“This has to change, and as we leave the EU we will regain the ability to shape a migration policy that can control immigration from wherever in the world it comes.” The report calls for the Government to devise a sustainable immigration plan that should be presented to Parliament in the same way that the Chancellor sets out plans for spending in the Budget.
Onward’s director Will Tanner said: “With net migration adding the equivalent of a city the size of Newcastle to the population each year, it is hardly surprising that the public no longer trust politicians on immigration.”