Newly appointed Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have signaled the government may scrap David Cameron’s pledge to reduce migration to “tens of thousands” by 2020.
Rudd said on Tuesday she aims to bring immigration down to “sustainable levels,” without citing a specific target.
Speaking to the BBC after May’s first cabinet meeting, the home secretary said: “What the prime minister has said is that we must bring migration down to sustainable levels so that’s what is going to be my aim at the moment.”
When pressed on whether the net migration target had changed, Rudd responded: “I’m going to stick to my comment which is about bringing it down to sustainable levels. That has to be the most important thing for the country.”
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who had promised to drastically curb immigration during the Leave campaign ahead of the Brexit referendum, backed Rudd’s remarks, saying the home secretary was “entirely right to be careful about committing to numbers because one doesn’t want to be in a position where you are disappointing people again.
“What is certainly possible, post leaving the EU – and once we end our obligations under uncontrolled free movement – it will be possible to have a system of control,” he said at a press conference alongside US Secretary of State John Kerry.
However, a spokesperson for May dismissed reports the Tories would be ditching the goal of bringing migration down to below 100,000.
“In the prime minister’s view sustainable levels does mean the tens of thousands but we should also recognize the work that will be needed to do that and to get us down to sustainable levels,” she said.
Cameron’s target was watered down to an “ambition” ahead of last year’s general election, as migration to the UK continued to rise.
Last year, net migration hit 333,000—the second highest level on record.
Brexiteers seized on immigration as a key argument during last month’s referendum, arguing that Cameron’s failure to meet his own target indicated that being part of the bloc made it impossible for the UK to reduce migrant numbers.