Evening Standard attacks Tories over including students in migration figures

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Former chancellor George Osborne's newspaper has urged Tories to rebel over the government's controversial inclusion of students in migration numbers.

In a blistering attack, the Evening Standard accused Theresa May of sticking with false information about the levels of students who remained in the UK illegally after finishing their studies so she did not have to change her policy.

The editorial said as Home Secretary, Mrs May was alone among senior Cabinet figures in wanting overseas students counted in the net migration figures but rebuffed repeated calls for the accuracy of the numbers of people overstaying to be investigated.

Figures released on Thursday by the Office for National Statistics found just 4,600 students are believed to illegally remain, rather than the 100,000 previously estimated.

The Evening Standard said: "Alone among senior Cabinet ministers at the time, Home Secretary Theresa May insisted that overseas students had to be included in Britain's net migration numbers.

"Her reason was simple: around 100,000 of those students, she claimed, remained in the UK illegally once their visas expired. Based on a survey conducted at airports, the figure was always considered highly suspect across Whitehall.

"But repeated attempts by the Treasury, Foreign Office and Business department to get the Home Office to investigate the accuracy of the numbers were rebuffed - the then Home Secretary thought it was better to stick with false information than get the real facts, which might force her to change the policy."

The piece suggests that the minority government would lose a vote if plans to reform the policy were put before MPs.

It said: "Let's hope someone puts down an amendment in Parliament to remove students from migration numbers.

"With the facts now known, most of the Cabinet privately supporting it, and no government majority, it will surely be carried -- and we can have a shot at being 'global Britain'."

Mrs May has previously refused to back down over the inclusion of students, even though it would dramatically cut net migration totals and help the government meet its target of cutting numbers to the tens of thousands.

"Students are in the net migration figures because it is in the international definition of net migration and we abide by the same definition that is used by other countries around the world," the PM said in April.