Ruth Davidson has challenged Theresa May’s pledge to keep immigration below 100,000 and include international students in that number.
The Scottish Conservative leader today argued immigration had made the UK “better” and warned the party would fail to connect with younger voters if it was seen to be anti-migrant.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Davidson said: “The British government has failed to hit its self-imposed ‘tens of thousands’ target in any year.
“Brexit is a big reset button and should – in theory – make that much easier to do so. But we have to ask whether the target continues to be the right one?”
She added: “According to the pollster ComRes, only 24 per cent of British adults think international students are immigrants.
“More than 90 per cent say international students should be able to work in the UK for a period of time after they have completed their study.
“So let’s start there. If people don’t think that students should be included in the net migration numbers, let’s take them out and have a clearer picture of where we are.
“As Conservatives, we have to also acknowledge that many of those voting groups we need to reconnect with – younger voters, those in urban areas – are more likely to be either immigrants themselves or have a number of non-British nationals within their family or social groups.”
May’s general election manifesto committed her to reducing annual immigration to below 100,000 people per year.
During the election campaign, George Osborne claimed “none” of May’s senior ministers supported the immigration target.
“All would be glad to see the back of something that has caused the Conservative Party such public grief,” he said.
Davidson is not the first senior Tory to criticise including students in the migration figures. Boris Johnson has previously said he thinks the policy should be dropped.
Labour MP Wes Streeting, a supporter of Open Britain, said: “When the leader of the Scottish Conservatives publicly opposes the Government’s immigration policy, it is time for Ministers to admit defeat and scrap their ‘tens of thousands’ migration target.
“The British public support international students coming here to study and they also appreciate the work done by EU migrants in our NHS and social care system, and in other sectors which are suffering from skills shortages.
“Cutting immigration in such a draconian fashion would hammer our economy and public services and make all of us worse off. The Government should listen to the voices of businesses, unions and members of their own party, and drop this damaging and unachievable target.”