Over the weekend, Boris Johnson managed to plunge himself into another Cabinet row by announcing on Peston on Sunday that he thinks students should be excluded from the net migration numbers — because they are ‘of massive benefit to this country’. As is becoming a pattern, No 10 were quick to slap him down — with the Prime Minister’s spokesman insisting at lobby that ‘students will continue to be part of the figures’.
Not that this stopped MPs having some fun with the comments today at Home Office questions. Andrew Tyrie kicked proceedings off by asking — in a convoluted manner — whether Rudd agreed that students should be removed from the tens of thousands target. In reply, Rudd said it was ‘likely’ they would stay in the migrant category — while praising the role students play:
‘I share my honourable friend’s view that students play an important role in contributing to the economy and are most welcome in the UK. The internationally recognised definition of a migrant is someone coming for over 12 months so they are likely to stay within that definition — though I am aware there are different views on this matter.’
Yvette Cooper, the chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, was next up. She went further and specifically asked Rudd whether she agreed with the Foreign Secretary on immigration targets. It then fell on Diane Abbott — the shadow home secretary — to raise the issue a third time.
‘On all parts of the house there is an increasing consensus that students should be taken out of the immigration target. Technically anyone who stays for more than 12 months could be an immigrant but they shouldn’t be part of the target.’
Rudd easily brushed Abbott off by joshing that she should take up her views with some of her Labour colleagues in the North who have other ideas.
While it can’t be denied that the Labour party’s own position on immigration leaves much to be desired, today’s session did expose some weaknesses in the government’s. Rudd did her best to defend May’s position but faced opposition on all sides of the house. Although May has long been in favour of students remaining a part of the target, this has not stopped members of her Cabinet from openly disagreeing with her. With Philip Hammond — too — hinting last month that it would be a good idea to take students out of the figure, May is beginning to look out of touch with both her Cabinet and her party on the issue.