Tories vow to cut immigration overall as they ‘take back control’ of borders

The Conservatives have pledged to cut immigration “overall” as the party announced a range of measures to “take back control” – just days after Boris Johnson appeared to row back from the promise.

If the Tories are returned to power on December 12, the “vast majority” of migrants will need a job offer to come to the UK to work, regardless of where they are from in the world.

The party said there will be a small number of exceptions, including high-skilled scientists and those who want to come to the UK to start a business.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Immigration will finally be subject to democratic control, allowing us to get overall numbers down.”

Labour attacked the Conservatives' plans, saying they doubted the party would bring down net migration, but refused to say whether it would increase or decrease under a Labour government.

But on Thursday, the Prime Minister said the Conservatives’ promised points-based immigration system “may” mean the numbers come down “in some sectors”, after Ms Patel had earlier said a Tory government would “reduce immigration overall”.

Priti Patel says immigration will be under democratic control. Credit: PA

Ministers have already made clear they are finally abandoning the party’s long-standing commitment to get net migration down below 100,000 a year – a target they have never met.

However, the Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said the UK needed "people at all skill levels" to come and work.

Speaking on Sophy Ridge On Sunday, Dame Carolyn said: "When we hear talk about brightest and best, I think that is a worry.

"If you do want to build 200,000 houses a year, you don't just need the architects and the designers, you need the carpenters, you need the electricians, you need the labourers.

"We need people to come and help us renew our economy," she said.

"It's not just brightest and best, it's people at all skill levels across our economy that we need."

As well as cutting immigration figures, the Conservatives also pledged that access to benefits will be equalised between EU nationals and those from the rest of the world, meaning non-UK citizens will typically need to wait five years before they are able to claim benefits.

The party pointed out that under current rules, EU migrants can access welfare and services after being in the UK for three months.

A Tory government would also vow to put an end to the practice of child benefit being sent abroad to support children who do not live in the UK.

The party claims these two measures could save an estimated £800 million a year by 2024-25.

Another measure to be introduced by the Tories would be an increase to the immigration health surcharge from £400 to £625.

The party said that under the current system, people on a work, study or family visa incur average NHS costs of £625 per year but only pay £400, and it said the change will raise more than £500 million a year.

The surcharge was originally brought in by the Government in 2015 in a clampdown on so-called “health tourism”, and has previously been doubled from £200 to £400.

The party said there will be an “immediate cash injection of £20 million this year” to strengthen borders and reduce illegal immigration, including new equipment to better detect illicit goods such as firearms and drugs.

Speaking on Sunday, security minister Brandon Lewis said his party would not be setting "arbitrary" immigration targets.

Speaking on Sky News' Sophy Ridge On Sunday, Mr Lewis added that anyone from the EU who lives in the UK as part of the settled status scheme would have their "rights protected", even if they arrive in the UK post-Brexit.

Immigration is the focus of the Tories’ latest policy announcement. Credit: PA

Mr Johnson said: “As we come out of the EU we have a new opportunity for fairness and to make sure all those who come here are treated the same.

“We will make our immigration system equal – whilst at the same time ensuring our fantastic public services, like the NHS, are all properly funded.

“A majority Conservative government will ensure that people who come to our great country from anywhere in the world have both a job to come to, and make a contribution to our NHS – so that we can protect and improve the public services we all benefit from.”

Ms Patel said: “One of the benefits of Brexit is that we get to take back control and make our system fairer. A majority Conservative government will ensure that people who come to our great country from anywhere in the world will contribute on day one.

“A Labour government would see immigration surge, placing huge strain on public services like our NHS and prisons.

“(Jeremy) Corbyn would also subject the UK to the chaos of two more referendums, with no time to focus on the people’s priorities.

“Only a Conservative majority can get Parliament working again and get Brexit done so that we can end freedom of movement once and for all.”

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth refused to say if immigration would go up or down under Labour. Credit: PA

Labour attacked the Tory pledge to reduce immigration, with shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth telling Sky News' Sophy Ridge On Sunday: "Every general election I've fought the Tories have made these promises, every single general election the Tory immigration minister gets wheeled out to say this - have they ever delivered it?

"Have they heck.

"Do you believe him?

"I don't."

However, Mr Ashworth refused to say whether immigration would increase or decrease under a Labour government.

Pressed on Labour's policy, Mr Ashworth said: "We want a balanced approach to immigration and what that means for the NHS is if a hospital trust thinks that a surgeon or a nurse or a midwife is qualified enough to come to our country to care for our sick and our elderly and offers them that opportunity, then they should be allowed to come to our country to care for our sick and our elderly."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn refused to be drawn on his party's immigration policy. Credit: PA

Likewise, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn refused to be drawn on his party's immigration policy, telling the BBC's The Andrew Marr Show "you will have to wait until Thursday" (when Labour unveils its manifesto) to find out if free movement of people will end when the UK leaves the EU.

He added: "A lot of European Union nationals have made their homes in this country and made a massive contribution to our society.

"A lot of British people live in different parts of the European Union.

"And many of those families have been through unbelievable levels of stress, so they absolutely must have the right to remain and be able to bring their families here."

He continued: "What you have is people that wholly, legitimately, make their homes and their contribution here but have an artificial income level put on them if they're allowed to bring partners or children into this country."

Mr Corbyn added that there are "huge economic demands" in the UK with the need for nurses and doctors.

"We cannot exist in isolation, therefore there has to be migration into Britain in order to maintain our economy and our services, and that will be reflected in the policy which you will see on Thursday."