Home Secretary Theresa May has signalled that the Conservatives will once again make a commitment to cut net migration by a specified amount, despite growing unease from senior colleagues.
It is understood that many of Mrs May’s fellow cabinet members are uncertain about making a similar pledge to the one which has dogged them throughout the course of this Parliament.
Shortly after taking office in 2010, the Tories had promised to reduce net migration to tens of thousands by the time of the next General Election.
But in actual fact, figures from last September showed that annual net migration had risen to 298,000; a rather embarrassing outcome for the government.
When it became clear how dramatically the party had fallen short of its target, veteran MP Ken Clarke warned against pursuing a similar policy in future, arguing that it would be impossible to meet such a strict immigration target without doing harm to the UK economy.
However, Mrs May has now indicated that the party is likely to stick to a similar course, perhaps sensing immigration will be one of the key issues at the forthcoming election.
“I think we will keep the target,” she told The Times.
“It is important because it is about not just dealing with those coming into the system but also about making sure that those people who shouldn’t live here actually leave.”
The approach has come under fierce criticism from Labour.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said: “No-one will believe a word she or the Prime Minister says on this, after they promised ‘no ifs, not buts’ to meet their chosen target last time, yet instead net migration is three times the level they promised.
“We need a smarter system of controls for different kinds of migration so that, for example, we can benefit from overseas university students who bring billions into Britain but restrict low skilled migration. And we need much stronger enforcement of the rules to cut illegal immigration.”