Is the new government under Theresa May going to ditch the target to drive net migration into the tens of thousands? Amber Rudd and Boris Johnson signalled a change of policy from the back-of-a-fag-packet plan yesterday by saying the aim was to ‘bring migration down to sustainable levels’, though Downing Street insisted that this was not an end to the target, saying ‘the Prime Minister does see sustainable levels as down to the tens of thousands’.
It would be odd, given May’s personal commitment to the net migration target, and her personal frustration (and that of her aide Nick Timothy) that it wasn’t met as a result – in her view at least – of special pleading from other ministers, especially George Osborne and ministers in the Business department. But if she does succeed in driving down the numbers, many sectors, particularly farming, argue that they would then struggle to recruit enough workers. Or else it would be as a result of a weaker economy and Britain being a far less attractive place to work than it is now.
If she does not succeed, then there will be a reckoning with voters who backed Brexit in part because they thought it would give British politicians control over immigration and help them drive the numbers down. And the reckonings that politicians receive from voters over immigration are not to be endured: Labour’s current identity crisis in part stems back to the fury amongst its electorate for the way it handled immigration from the A8 countries. If voters conclude politicians have broken their promises on immigration again, their fury will be quite something.