British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday vowed to stick to her party’s pledge to cut the migration figures down to “tens of thousands”, evoking a strong reaction from Liberal Democrats who warned that her tough stand will damage ties with countries like India.
The Prime Minister said it was important to hit this target given the pressure immigration had put on public services and those on lower incomes.
The pledge to bring immigration below 100,000 will form part of her Conservative Party’s manifesto for the June 8 general election.
“I think that it is important that we do say and continue to say that we do want to bring migration to sustainable levels. We believe that is the tens of thousands,” May said.
“Once we leave the EU, we will of course have the opportunity to ensure we have control of our borders. We will be able to establish our rules for people coming from the EU. That is a part of the picture we have not been able to control before,” she said.
Net migration, which is the difference between the number of people arriving into and leaving the country, stands at around 273,000 in the UK and the Tories have repeatedly missed their target of cutting that down to tens of thousands since it was announced in the general election in 2010 and then repeated in 2015.
There was widespread speculation over whether May would renew the pledge for this election and she chose to use Brexit as the reason to hold on to what has been described by Opposition parties as an “artificial” target which is impossible to meet.
Liberal Democrat party attacked the ruling Conservative party for its stance. The party’s shadow home secretary, Brian Paddick, said May’s stand on the issue will damage ties with countries like India.
“The leave campaign, many members of which are now in the Cabinet, made a clear commitment during the referendum campaign to lift visa restrictions on people from India and other Commonwealth countries, it is now clear that this is another leave lie,” Paddick said.
“Britain’s Asian communities are realising that these complacent, divisive and Brexit-style parties do not represent them and our increase of the vote to 18 per cent in last week’s local election demonstrates the Liberal Democrats are making significant inroads with voters up and down the country, including many Asian voters,” he said.
Immigration is expected to be among one of the central issues in the campaign for the June 8 general election, with a related focus on Brexit.
The ruling Conservatives have promised new migration controls after the UK leaves the EU, when freedom of movement rules will no longer apply, but they have yet to set out the precise model they would adopt.
However, until the Brexit deal is finalised, any Conservative-led government in the UK is likely to continue tightening immigration norms for non-EU nationals from countries like India.
“India is a key strategic partner for the United Kingdom and the British-Indian community contribute so much to our country. Liberal Democrat immigration policies will therefore seek to maximise the economic, cultural and social benefit of these relationships and welcome immigration as a blessing, not a curse,” said Lib Dem leader Tim Farron.
Under former Prime Minister David Cameron, the level of net migration rose to a record 330,000, but May, then as home secretary in charge of immigration, refused to abandon the tens of thousands target.
Labour party MP Chuka Umunna, who is standing for re- election in the London constituency of Streatham, said keeping the target would be “foolish”.
He tweeted: “The Tories persist in a migration target they’ve never met and are unlikely ever to achieve. Just drop it.”
Meanwhile, the far-right and anti-immigration UK Independence Party (UKIP) outlined its own “one in, one out” immigration policy for the polls, which it claims will see the number of people coming to the UK cut from 600,000 a year to 300,000 a year, over five years.
Opposition Labour said it will unveil its own immigration policy next week.
The increasingly tightening immigration policies of the Tory-led UK government have already seen a major decline in figures of foreign students from countries like India coming to study at UK universities.
“International students are good for London and good for the UK. They are indispensable for our universities, said Jessica Cole, head of policy at the Russell Group of top universities, as a warning against any further drop in numbers.