Ruth Davidson urges Theresa May to reconsider net migration target

Written by Tom Freeman and Josh May on 9 August 2017 in News

Foreign students should be exempt from immigration targets, says Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson


Ruth Davidson - credit David Anderson/Holyrood

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has called on Theresa May to reconsider the Conservative target to cut net migration to below 100,000 per year. 

In an article for the Telegraph, Davidson challenged a number of the immigration policies espoused by May during her time as Home Secretary and now as Prime Minister, including a commitment to reduce net migration to the 'tens of thousand', a pledge repeated in every general election manifesto since 2010, despite never coming close to realising it.

Davidson suggested the Conservative party drop "easy slogans" on immigration.


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One example of where the figure wasn't sustainable, Davidson suggested, was among students.

“If people don’t think that students should be included in the net migration numbers, let’s take them out and have a clearer picture of where we are,” she said.

Davidson called for a “rational discussion around economic growth, workforce planning, the capacity of public services, societal change and public consent” and said neither Labour nor the Tories had attempted a “meaningful” discussion with the public about the complexities of immigration.

And she argued that the lack of further capacity in the labour market undermined one of the arguments for those calling for cuts in net migration, which stood at 248,000 in the most recent official figures.

“The British government has failed to hit its self-imposed ‘tens of thousands’ target in any year,” Davidson wrote.  

“Brexit is a big reset button and should – in theory – make that much easier to do so. But we have to ask whether the target continues to be the right one?

“After all, unemployment now is at its lowest level since 1975, at just 4.5 per cent. And with the country on the road to full employment, potential for growth is facing ever greater limitations...

“Instead of the political discourse treating immigration as a problem to be solved let’s treat it as what it is – a multifaceted issue which requires proper examination and consideration from all sides.

“Immigration has changed Britain hugely. I believe it has changed it for the better, but undoubtedly there are people that feel that they have been left behind. The time for easy slogans is over. Let’s treat the British public like the grown-ups they are and have the mature conversation we need.”

Labour’s Shadow Scotland Office Minister Paul Sweeney MP said the remarks showed there was "open warfare" in the Conservative Party over immigration.

“When the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, who defends abhorrent policies such as the rape clause, tells Theresa May that she needs to think again then you know just how wrong the Prime Minister is," he said.

"Our elderly population is expected to grow significantly, while the working-age population is forecast to increase only marginally, which shows just how wrong-headed the Tory approach on immigration is.

“Scotland faces a twin threat to public services – a reckless Tory Brexit which would risk making it harder to attract people to Scotland, and a SNP government which refuses to use Holyrood’s powers to invest."

However, yesterday a union leader warned Labour had adopted the language of UKIP on immigration. Writing for the LabourList website, TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “The false perception persists, promoted to a large extent by our right-wing media and Ukip’s two decade-long xenophobic mantra, that the wholesale importation of EU workers is undermining those already working within our shores,” he wrote.

“Sadly, this disingenuous narrative has taken root within our movement. It helped deliver the Brexit vote. But as we debate the Brexit we want, it’s high time we weeded out this fallacious and, frankly, xenophobic and at times bordering on racist, argument.”



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