General election 2019: Boris Johnson 'rows back on Tory pledge to cut immigration'

Boris Johnson seemingly rowed back on a promise to cut immigration if the Conservatives win the general election - hours after Home Secretary Priti Patel said the government would reduce 'immigration overall' post-Brexit.

The prime minister said the Tories points-based immigration system "may" mean the numbers come down "in some sectors".

Tory ministers were keen to emphasise they had dropped a long-standing commitment to reduce net migration to below 100,000 a year - a target which they have never met since the pledge was included in their 2010 manifesto.

Speaking in Bristol, the prime minister said: “We want to have a controlled system. And yes, that may mean in some sectors immigration comes down.”

Ms Patel appeared to commit to cutting immigration numbers in a Conservative Party press statement attacking Labour's immigration policies.

“We will reduce immigration overall while being more open and flexible to the highly skilled people we need, such as scientists and doctors,” she said.

Tory ministers had previously refused to say whether the government's proposals would lead to lower immigration.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the Conservatives would ‘reduce immigration overall’. Credit: Aaron Chown/PA

Security minister Brandon Lewis appeared to endorse a shift towards lower immigration, saying the government would have to power under a points-based system.

Yet on Thursday evening, Ms Patel told ITV News she had "learned not to set any targets", to which she replied: "Well, I think that by taking back control and effectively having a points-based system specifically, we can give the public confidence in the immigration system...

"And speaking about targets, targets are an arbitrary figure, and clearly that is where public confidence has been eroded in the past.

"Rather than talk about arbitrary numbers, and targets that undermine public confidence when they're not met and haven't been met in the past."

The Conservatives have long been criticised for failing to fulfil their manifesto pledge in 2010 on which they were elected on to reduce overall immigration into the UK to below 100,000.

Security Minister Brandon Lewis said there would be no ‘arbitrary targets’ for immigration. Credit: David Mirzoeff/PA

Critics said the EU's freedom of movement rules means it is impossible to control the number of immigrants looking to come into the UK.

Mr Lewis said the failure to meet the target was in part because they had been in coalition with the Liberal Democrats from 2010 to 2015.

The Lib Dems hit back, accusing the Tories of seeking to arbitrarily cut immigration numbers without regard to the consequences.

Home affairs spokeswoman Christine Jardine said: “Our public services, including our NHS, rely on the contribution that immigrants make but the Tories are willing to put this at risk just to pursue a nationalist Trumpian agenda.”