Ruth Davidson questions net migration target

Image source, Reuters

The leader of the Scottish Conservatives has questioned the government's goal of reducing net migration below 100,000.

In the Daily Telegraph, Ruth Davidson said "we have to ask whether the target continues to be the right one".

"The time for easy slogans is over," she added.

Ms Davidson also called for students to be taken out of net migration figures, in contrast to Theresa May's insistence they should be included.

The government has promised a new set of migration rules after Brexit.

It has also promised to get net migration - the difference between the number of people coming to live in the UK and those leaving - to the tens of thousands.

The target has never come close to being met since it was first proposed in 2010 and the government has not set a date by which it should be achieved.

According to the latest figures, net migration to the UK was estimated to be 248,000 in 2016, a fall of 84,000 from 2015.

In her newspaper article, Ms Davidson said Brexit - which will mean the UK is no longer subject to EU free movement rules - would be a "big reset button" which should make it "much easier" to hit the target.

She added: "But we have to ask whether the target continues to be the right one?"

Citing low unemployment levels, she said "potential for growth is facing ever greater limitations".

Neither her party nor Labour had "sought to have a meaningful and sustained discussion with the public about the merits and drawbacks of immigration", she said.

"Let's treat the British public like the grownups they are and have the mature conversation we need."

As home secretary and now prime minister, Mrs May has consistently resisted calls to exempt international students from immigration numbers.

But Ms Davidson said most Britons did not think international students should be treated as migrants, adding: "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."

Ms Davidson was boosted by the general election as the Tories won 13 seats in Scotland.

She has previously spoken of the need to welcome migrants and for her party to be "internationalist in outlook".

She was a leading campaigner for a Remain vote in last year's EU referendum.

Labour's shadow Scotland Office minister Paul Sweeney said: "The Tories are in open warfare and these comments from Ruth Davidson show just deep the splits in the party run."