UK Politics

Immigration target unlikely to be met, says Theresa May

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Media captionTheresa May: "We have seen increasing numbers of people coming from across Europe."

The UK is "unlikely" to meet its target for reducing immigration, Home Secretary Theresa May has said.

EU migration has "blown us off course" from cutting net migration to the tens of thousands before the general election, Mrs May told the Andrew Marr show.

Mrs May said Britain's strengthening economy had continued to attract people from across Europe.

Labour said the government's net migration target was "in tatters".

David Cameron said in May the target for net migration - the difference between the number of people coming into the UK and those leaving - was "perfectly achievable".

Mrs May's comments come ahead of a speech by the prime minister on immigration, where, according to the Sunday Times, he will call for a ban on EU migrants claiming in-work benefits such as tax credits for two or more years.


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Image caption David Cameron is preparing to make a major speech on immigration

By Ellie Price, BBC political reporter

In 2011, the prime minister insisted the government would reduce net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands, "no ifs, no buts".

But, just a fortnight ago the home secretary got flustered on BBC Radio 4 and said that was not a "promise" but "a comment" or "aim".

The latest comments by Theresa May were her clearest yet. Those targets are "unlikely" to be met, mainly because of migration from within the EU.

Critics will see this as expectation management. The latest immigration figures will be published this week.

David Cameron faces the challenge of convincing Eurosceptic MPs in his own party, as well as voters flirting with UKIP, that it is in his gift to manage migration from the EU.

Mrs May said the government had been controlling non-EU migration and was cracking down on abuse of the visa system but reform was needed to the principle of free movement of people within the EU.

"What we have been doing is taking the steps that we believe we can take already and looking to see if there is more that we can do," she said.

"We have changed in relation to...people's access to benefits so people can't come here and start claiming benefits immediately."

She added: "It is important to us, as we look ahead to negotiating a new relationship with the EU, that we put free movement as one of those key issues that we are going to negotiate on and we are going to deal with."

But, when asked about the migration target, she said: "It is, of course, unlikely that we're going to reach the tens of thousands by the end of the parliament."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the government's net migration target was "in tatters".

"The prime minister promised 'no ifs, no buts' to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands, and Theresa May has spent four years claiming she was on track," Ms Cooper said.

"Net migration is now more than twice her target and rising - and she has finally been forced to admit her target is 'unlikely'.

"Continually making and breaking grand promises on immigration is only undermining confidence in the entire system."

Mr Cameron set the migration target in a speech in 2011.

The latest figures, published in August, put UK annual net migration at 243,000.

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