Prime minister Rishi Sunak has signalled he wants to rein in immigration, in line with the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto commitment to get overall numbers down over the course of the following five years.
Mr Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss clashed with home secretary Suella Braverman over proposals to let numbers rise in the hope of boosting economic growth, and the spat is believed to have played a part in Ms Braverman’s dismissal last week.
Before her resignation, Ms Truss is thought to have been planning to liberalise work visa rules for hard-to-fill jobs like social care and fruit-picking, as part of set of pro-growth “supply-side” reforms, also featuring relaxation of planning rules and workplace red tape.
Easing restrictions on immigration would allow the Office for Budget Responsibility to upgrade its all-important assessment on likely growth in the coming years, reducing the scale of spending cuts and tax rises needed to fill the estimated £40bn black hole in the finances left by Ms Truss.
But with Truss gone and Ms Braverman back in the Home Office, 10 Downing Street today announced that plans for a series of papers setting out supply-side reforms have been scrapped.
And on immigration the PM’s official spokesperson said: “Meeting our manifesto commitments remains important. The prime minister has been very clear on that.
“And that relates to net migration as well, where we said it should come down.
“He’s committed to ensuring we have control over our borders and the public rightly expects us to control immigration and have a system that works best for the UK.”
Ms Braverman issued a barely-veiled challenge to Ms Truss’s position at the Conservative conference earlier this month, declaring that her “ultimate aspiration” is to reduce net migration to the UK to the tens of thousands.
The comment signalled a desire to revive David Cameron’s long-standing but never-achieved target of keeping net migration beneath 100,000 a year.
It went well beyond the manifesto pledge that “there will be fewer lower-skilled migrants and overall numbers will come down”.
Mr Sunak’s spokesman said that the prime minister has not set a target for net migration numbers – the number of people settling in the UK minus the number leaving it to live abroad.