So long as the economy was at the top of the agenda, ‘Remain’ will have felt safe in the knowledge that ‘Leave’ could do little to win over the public’s trust. But today, the Prime Minister has his former aide and friend Steve Hilton to thank for bringing the issue of migration soaring back into the headlines. What’s particularly dangerous for the Government about what Steve Hilton had to say is his claim that the PM was directly told in 2012 that meeting the promise to bring net migration down to the ‘tens of thousands’ was impossible. Here’s what Steve Hilton told the Daily Mail:
‘We were told, directly and explicitly, that it was impossible for the Government to meet its immigration target as long as we remained members of the EU, which of course insists on the free movement of people within it.’
The PM’s old advisor has compounded the claims by saying, in an interview with the BBC, that ‘making promises that clearly can’t be kept is not a good way to build trust in politics’. Immigration has always been the soft underbelly of the ‘Remain’ campaign. And with a figure who was so important to David Cameron’s government making these claims, it is not difficult to see the potential for damage to those campaigning for Britain to stay ‘In’.
The gulf between the ‘tens of thousands’ target and the 333,000 net migration figure from last year will have angered many who backed the Tories on the basis of this promise. What’s more, the Government’s repeated attempts to downgrade this manifesto promise to a ‘pledge’ also gives credence to the view that meeting this target is not going to happen any time soon – which ties in with Steve Hilton’s claims.