Immigration sustainable in the tens of thousands, insists minister
He was speaking after Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson questioned the target for cutting net migration.
Government plans to cut immigration to the UK to less than 100,000 have been defended by a leading member of Theresa May’s Cabinet.
First Secretary of State Damian Green made clear ministers believe a “sustainable level” of immigration would be for the number of people coming to the UK to be in “the tens of thousands”.
He was speaking after Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson questioned the target for cutting net migration – which has never been achieved since the Government announced it in 2010.
Ms Davidson, who has spearheaded a Tory revival north of the border, said it is time for her party to have a “meaningful and sustained” discussion on the issue.
As part of that, she said “we have to ask whether the target continues to be the right one”, highlighting that while the number of pensioners in Scotland is expected to rise by 28% over the next 25 years, the number of workers is set to increase by only 1%.
Ms Davidson also contradicted the Prime Minister by arguing for overseas students to be removed from net migration figures.
Speaking during a visit to Edinburgh, Mr Green said: “Ruth has an extremely interesting view point, she is quite right we need a rational debate on immigration, we’ve always needed that.
“I think the overall purpose of the Government’s immigration policy is to have immigration at sustainable levels, we do need to identify that as being in the tens of thousands.
“It is clear that one of the forces behind the Brexit vote was a feeling in some parts of the UK that immigration had been allowed to be too high for too long, and I think we should respect that.
“Immigration policy is always a balancing act between forces pushing in different directions.
“One of the things that needs to go alongside immigration policy is a successful skills policy so we can up-skill our own workforce to make sure that if there are jobs that previously Scottish workers have not done, let’s make those jobs available to Scottish.
“We’re not going to stop immigration overnight, nobody has ever suggested that, that’s never been UK Government policy and it won’t be UK Government policy.
“As I’ve said immigration policy is always a balancing act, a lot of people clearly feel immigration is too high and want to have it at sustainable levels, but that sustainable level is not zero.
“So there will be people coming here to work and to live.”
In the wake of the Brexit vote, the Scottish Government has been pressing for power over immigration to be devolved to Holyrood, arguing different needs north of the border should allow for a different policy to be put in place.
But Mr Green dismissed that suggestion, saying: “Immigration has always been a reserved power and that is for obvious practical reasons, that nobody wants any kind of border control inside the UK. I can’t see that changing.”
SNP MSP Joan McAlpine said: “This just shows how little authority Ruth Davidson has – she can make a lot of noise but nobody’s listening.
“Scotland was promised powers over immigration by the Leave campaign. The UK Government has a duty to deliver on that promise.”