Newly appointed Caroline Nokes says Brexit has shown people want to keep these figures
The vow to cut net arrivals to under 100,000 a year was first made by David Cameron and kept by Theresa May despite latest figures showing 230,000 a year more people coming to live in the UK than leaving.
Newly appointed Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes told BBC1’s Sunday Politics: “We had a referendum in 2016 which sent us a very clear message that people want to see that target remain.
“They want to see us reducing immigration to sustainable levels and we’re doing exactly that.
“It was there in the manifesto so that is the direction of travel.”
She would not prejudge advice due in September from the Migration Advisory Committee on Britain’s need for foreign workers.
Theresa May is keeping David Cameron’s vow despite net immigration rising
The continued discrepancy between the target and reality has damaged the public’s view of the immigration system
“It is important for me to listen to the experts and make sure that we come up with a direction of travel that satisfies those who voted Leave in the 2016 referendum, that satisfies business, that makes sure that universities can still attract the brightest and best students,” she said.
She pointedly dodged saying if she agreed with Mrs May in rejecting calls to stop counting foreign students against the target, but said it was because they stayed for more than a year that official statisticians wanted them included.
Ms Nokes spoke before publication overnight of a report by the House of Commons’ Home Affairs Committee calling for an overhaul of immigration policy to find “consensus” on the way forward.
The MPs called for the “tens-of-thousands” target to be replaced with an “evidence-based”, annually reviewed system.
The rules should also reflect the public’s belief that migration for study, work, family reunion and asylum should be treated differently and as a “minimum”, foreign students should be removed from the target.
The committee said the last Labour government’s underestimate of likely immigration from new Eastern European EU countries, and the Tories’ tens-of-thousands target which had never been met had both undermined public trust. Witnesses also dubbed the target “crude and “random”.
The MPs concluded: “The continued discrepancy between the target and reality has damaged the public’s view of the immigration system because it undermines trust in the state’s ability to control migration in the way it intends or to deliver on its plans.
“Setting a long-term target or aspiration does not solve the challenge of achieving credibility, as people want to see practical steps that can be taken in the short-term. “The target should be replaced with a new framework of targets and controls based on evidence.”
The report also highlighted the lack of accurate information about migration flows, though exit checks reintroduced in 2015 for people on visas could be a basis for better recording.
In particular, public anxiety about illegal immigration had been allowed to “grow unchecked” because of a lack of official information about the scale of the problem, giving the impression the Government did not care, said the MPs.
public anxiety has grown over illegal immigration due to lack of official figures
Officials insist it is not possible accurately to say how many foreigners are in Britain illegally but a former immigration chief last year claimed it was probably more than a million.
The committee said: “We recognise the Government’s concern that to create an official estimate of overall illegal immigration without any reliable evidence would not add value to the debate.
“However, we also believe that more analysis of the scale and nature of the problem of illegal immigration is needed in order to develop appropriate policy responses and reassure the public that the issue is being addressed seriously.”
Effective enforcement was also vital and the public needed reassuring that criminal checks were done on new arrivals.
The MPs called for a system based on “fair rules underpinned by clear principles”, including annual reports on migrants’ contributions and entitlements, and proper investment for areas experiencing rapid population change.
They added: “The process for the UK’s departure from the EU provides us with an opportunity to reset the tone and shape of the immigration debate. “Immigration does not have to be a polarising issue.”
Labour former Cabinet minister Yvette Cooper, the committee chair, added: “Most people think immigration is important for Britain, but they want to know that the system is under control, that people are contributing to this country and that communities and public services are benefiting rather than facing pressures.”
Alp Mehmet, vice chairman of Migration Watch UK, said:”This is a superficial report. “It is critical of government failures but tacitly accepts the current level of immigration, with policy recommendations that would see mass immigration continue indefinitely, contrary to very strong public opinion.
“The call for students to be removed from the net migration target is undermined by recognition of the additional pressure that the arrival of international students can place on local resources and overlooking that numbers of students do stay on after completing their studies – very good reasons for keeping arrangements as they are.”
A Home Office spokesman defended the Government’s record on tackling illegal immigration, saying: “We are making it harder than ever before for those with no right to be here to remain in the UK.
“However, by its very nature, it is not possible to estimate the size of the illegal population and so we cannot make any official estimates.”