Rudd sidesteps questions over Government target to cut immigration

Questions have been raised over the Government's goal of cutting net annual immigration below 100,000, after Home Secretary Amber Rudd declined to confirm she was aiming to hit the target by the time of the 2022 election.

And the Home Secretary told the Commons Home Affairs Committee that the Government will not set out its plans for post-Brexit immigration until after a deal on the UK's future relationship with the EU is reached this autumn.

Committee chair Yvette Cooper said the approach was "baffling", and questioned whether Ms Rudd was being "honest and open" with the public.

Although immigration is expected to form part of negotiations ahead of an agreement on future relations with the EU in October, Ms Rudd confirmed that a white paper on the Government's plans would not be published until the end of the year, with an Immigration Bill following early in 2019.

Asked for the Cabinet's position on whether immigration should be included in the future partnership deal, she replied only: "It is for the Prime Minister to decide on that."

Responding to MPs' questions on how the Home Office was spending £395 million provided by the Treasury for Brexit preparations in this financial year, Ms Rudd said a drive had been launched to recruit 1,000 border staff "to improve the quality of our border and prepare specifically for Brexit".

But the Home Office later said the majority of the new recruits were likely to be replacing officers who retire or change job, rather than strengthening border checks in response to the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

Ms Cooper asked the Home Secretary to say whether she was still aiming to meet the Government's longstanding goal - repeated in the 2017 Conservative manifesto - of reducing net migration below 100,000 by the time of the 2022 election.

Ms Rudd responded: "I am still focused on making sure that we continue to reduce net migration to sustainable level."

The committee chair shot back: "Is that Yes or No to the target?" The Home Secretary replied: "I think I have given my answer."

MP portraits
Yvette Cooper described the Government's approach to immigration as 'baffling' (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament)

Ms Cooper said the Government's target could be met only by transforming the current net immigration of around 100,000 EU citizens into the UK each year into a net outflow of 50,000 after Brexit, and demanded to know whether the Home Office was drawing up plans to achieve this.

But the Home Secretary responded only that the target was "challenging", adding: "It is a concern to many people, particularly the people who voted to leave the EU, that immigration is too high, so I will be making sure that we continue to reduce it."

Ms Cooper told her: "The problem is you have got a net migration target on one hand, you have got some unknown hidden objectives in the negotiations on the other, but none of us have any idea what they are.

"Do you think you are remotely being honest and open with the public about what future immigration policy and reality will be?"

Ms Rudd replied: "I think what the public want is to make sure they have a Government that is committed to reducing the high numbers of net migration, and they are seeing that with this Government."

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