Prime Minister committed to reducing immigration despite record levels

Prime Minister Theresa May

Prime Minister Theresa May

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The Prime Minister has restated her controversial commitment to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, as new figures reveal immigration remains at record levels.

The latest report from the ONS show an estimated 650,000 people came into the country over the last year, with numbers travelling from the EU reaching a historic high.

The net migration rate – the overall difference between the numbers arriving and leaving – was estimated at 335,000, the second highest figure on record.

But while the number of people emigrating for work-related reasons has increased, the numbers arriving for study have hit an 8 year low.

The figures have sparked fresh debate around Government post-Brexit immigration policy, including its stance on freedom of movement.

Many Eurosceptics cited immigration as one of the main reasons for voting to leave, but questions remain over whether the Government would accept free movement in exchange for membership of the Single Market.

In a speech to businesses last night, Brexit Secretary David Davis was expected to say the Government will seek to end free movement “as it has operated before”.

But he also stressed they would “not do so in a way that it is contrary to the national and economic interest”.

A breakdown of ONS figures shows net migration from the EU totalled 189,000 last year, with the majority of people arriving from Bulgaria and Romania.

Work was the most commonly cited reason for moving – accounting for 48% of all immigration – while the number of people arriving to study (163,000) reached their lowest levels since 2008.

Responding to the new report, a Downing Street spokeswoman said it remains the Government’s ambition to reduce annual net migration to below 100,000.

She stated it has already taken “a number of steps” to curb numbers coming from outside the EU, and said that leaving the Union “will provide the opportunity to take back control and to reduce the numbers coming from the EU”.

Divisions on immigration policy are also emerging within the Labour party.

Senior members, including John Healey and Frank Field, have warned the party could lose support to Ukip unless it backs tighter migrations controls.

However, speaking to the Yorkshire Post yesterday, leader Jeremy Corbyn argued the focus should be on low wages and exploitative businesses.

He told the paper: “The issue is of unscrupulous employers bringing in people to undercut others, we have to end that practice.

“We have to have tough wage inspection, we have to end the exploitation of those people, I believe that will make a difference.”

The new data was released amid revelations that under Theresa May’s leadership, the Home Office proposed putting the children of illegal immigrants at the bottom of the list for school places.

Cabinet letters leaked to the BBC reportedly show that the department also suggested schools places could be withdrawn.

A Government spokesman said he would not comment on leaked documents.

But Labour’s shadow education secretary Angela Rayner condemned the proposals for “punish[ing] innocent children”.

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