The Chancellor said progress had been made on reducing numbers, but suggested Britain’s relationship with the EU would need to be renegotiated after May 2015 to deliver David Cameron’s promise.
He also warned that border controls will be loosened again if Labour returns to government next year. Official figures showed net migration – the number coming to the UK for at least a year, minus the numbers leaving –rose 58,000 to 212,000 in the year to September 2013. Mr Cameron has rejected calls to drop the target, arguing it is still “achievable” but refusing to offer a “cast iron guarantee”. Home Secretary Theresa May has conceded it has become “more difficult”.
Mr Osborne suggested that the EU membership renegotiation – due to take place if the Tories win the general election – will have to be completed in order to bring immigration down to the tens of thousands.
“We’ve set out our ambition, we are committed to that ambition, and as you see with the Immigration Act now coming into effect we are delivering the actual changes that will help us control our borders and deliver that reduction in numbers that people in this country want to see,” Mr Osborne said.
“So we have got our policy, we are delivering on the policy, and the key dimension to it which we need to now deliver on is the European aspect.
“That requires renegotiation of our membership of the EU...The point that people need to focus on is that a General Election is not a free hit, it matters who the Government is.”