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James Cleverly refuses to give figures on Tory plan to cut immigration

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James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, has refused to put a figure on the appropriate level of net migration into Britain, as his Conservative party plans an annual cap on the number of people entering the country.

The Conservatives announced on Tuesday they would introduce a new annual cap on visas for work or to join family in Britain if they win the July 4 election. The exact level would be voted on in parliament based on recommendations from the government’s independent Migration Advisory. Committee (MAC).

The ruling Tory party is focusing on immigration in the election as it trails Labor in the polls and looks to head off a challenge from Reform UK and its anti-immigration leader Nigel Farage.

On Tuesday morning, Cleverly repeatedly declined to say what he thought would be an appropriate number for annual net migration.

“We said the MAC would do the job it was intended to do, which is to advise the government on the right balance that supports economic growth. . . without putting undue pressure on public services,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “The figures are too high at the moment and we have a plan to bring them down.”

Previous Tory leaders in 2010, 2015 and 2017 promised to reduce migration to “tens of thousands” but failed to achieve the target by far. Net migration to Britain last year was 685,000.

Cleverly initially blamed the EU for high levels of immigration in Britain under fourteen years of Conservative government, saying the post-Brexit increase was due to the emigration of people from Hong Kong and Ukraine.

The Home Secretary said net immigration figures are already falling and will fall further.

He also said Labor has voted more than 100 times against Conservative proposals to tighten migration, despite Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer’s pledge this week to “control our borders” and to tackle “skyrocketing” net migration to deal with.

Senior Conservative figures have discussed adopting a policy to leave the European Court of Human Rights to make it easier to deport asylum seekers, a move that would inflame moderate Conservatives. Russia and Belarus are the only European countries that do not endorse the body.

Instead, party leader Rishi Sunak could advocate a position where Britain would call for ECHR reforms, with the threat of leaving if this did not happen.

Cleverly declined to say whether the Tories might argue for leaving the ECHR in their manifesto, which is expected to be published in the coming weeks before the election.

“The point we’ve always made is that we are a law-abiding nation, but ultimately we have to take control of our borders,” he said. “We have always said that if we get a decision where we cannot control our borders, we will always prioritize border security and border control.”

Meanwhile, Farage dropped one of Reform UK’s immigration pledges within hours of returning as leader of the right-wing party.

In its draft manifesto published this year, Reform said it would process claims from asylum seekers arriving through safe countries in the British Overseas Territories, including the Falkland Islands.

When asked by the BBC how the policy would work, Farage poured cold water on it.

“I don’t think it’s very practical. It is a very difficult policy to manage,” Farage said. “I took over yesterday. Give me twelve hours and I’ll sort it out.”

He stressed that he wanted a net migration rate of zero – given that just over half a million people leave the country every year – and added that Britain should leave the ECHR, blaming the court for “increased activism” that prevented Britain from deporting more people.

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