Business groups and economists push back as May doubles down on net migration target

Mark Sands
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The UK will head to the polls on 8 June (Source: Getty)

Business groups and economists have hit out at Prime Minister Theresa May's commitment to cutting the level of net immigration to below 100,000 people per year.

Doubt was cast over the long-held target after culture secretary Karen Bradley said on Thursday that immigration policy "is not about putting numbers on it".

However, May insisted later in the day that the target would remain. Campaigning in Enfield, the Prime Minister said: "We want to see sustainable net migration in this country. I believe that sustainable net migration is in the tens of thousands."

May's apparent determination to stick to the target ahead of June's snap election has earned the former home secretary some criticism.

Read More: It's time for the Prime Minister to do a U-turn of her own

Speaking to City A.M. after May's comments, British Chambers of Commerce director general Adam Marshall warned: "Having an arbitrary migration target can dissuade some of the best and brightest from coming here, and that's certainly not what we want.

"This is one of those things where it's really important that we don't give off the wrong signals to people around the world."

Seamus Nevin, head of employment and skills policy at the Institute of Directors, added: "While businesses understand the need to address public concern about immigration levels, most voters are not very concerned about international students – who either leave at the end of their course or use the skills they’ve learned to make a valuable contribution to our country."

And LSE economist Philippe Legrain said ministers have repeatedly failed to bring net migration down to even double the 99,999 target.

"It's a pity that Theresa May has a chance to re-think immigration policy and she is falling back on a tried and tested failure," he said.

Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King's College London, agreed: "Fortunately the government has not tried hard to achieve this target in the past, because it's very difficult to find anything good to say about it."

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