Isabel Hardman

The Tories should have dropped their net migration target long ago

The Tories should have dropped their net migration target long ago
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It’s fair to say the Tories won’t be recycling their ‘immigration down’ posters for this year’s autumn conference. Net migration in the the year to March 2015 was 330,000, which is an all-time high and a 28 per cent increase on the previous year. John examines these stats here.

The funny thing is that the Conservatives have made this news bad news by re-committing to their pledge to drive net migration down into the tens of thousands. They had no evidence that they would have any better chance of meeting it after the election than they did beforehand, but they stuck with it in what appears to have been a rather stubborn fashion. They should have dropped it long ago.

Today’s figures are a symptom of a healthy, attractive economy to which people want to travel both from within the EU and outside to work.

George Osborne has tried to link the net migration target to the EU renegotiation, but even this makes little sense, as there are no proposals to curb the freedom of movement for work. If Number 10 does manage to work out a way of delaying migrant eligibility for in-work benefits for four years, which it is currently struggling to do, then this will make some difference. Ministers have been cheered by developments in Germany on this front, where the government has been using the European Court of Justice to tighten the law on benefits for migrants. But they are also aware that the rise in the minimum wage could be as much of a pull as those in-work benefits have been.

But the question still remains of why the Conservatives thought they should recommit to a hastily-designed target anyway. The only way they have a real chance of meeting it is if the economy tanks and Britain becomes an unattractive place to work. And that wouldn’t look very good on a conference poster, either.