Theresa May has said the Government remains committed to getting immigration down to the tens of thousands after Home Secretary Sajid Javid appeared to call into question the target.
During an interview on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Javid said the Government’s immigration white paper set out plans to reduce immigration to “sustainable” levels but did not include a “specific target”.
He insisted the Government was not abandoning pledges made in the Conservative general election manifesto.
Pressed repeatedly by presenter John Humphrys to repeat the commitment – first made by David Cameron – that they would get annual net migration down below 100,000 – he declined to do so.
“If you look at the current level of migration, the latest stats show 273,000. Most people agree that is very high, certainly by historical standards.
“In the last two decades it has been in the hundreds of thousands. If you go back further than that, it was much lower.
“What we want to do is bring it to a level where it is sustainable in the sense that it meets first our economic need and at the same time it is not too high a burden on our communities or on our infrastructure.”
Asked at Prime Minister’s Questions by Labour MP Chris Elmore whether it was still the Government’s intention to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands, Mrs May replied simply: “Yes.”
The exchanges appeared to reflect the continuing tensions within Cabinet over the target, which has never been met under the Conservatives.
Mrs May has strongly resisted pressure to abandon the target from senior ministers, who argue it is not achievable.
Later, during a visit to Heathrow Airport to highlight the release of the white paper, she insisted ministers were united behind the 100,000 target.
“The immigration white paper makes clear that the Government – and we’re all committed to what we said in the Conservative Party manifesto which was that we were going to bring net migration down to sustainable levels – and that means not the hundreds of thousands that we’ve seen in recent decades, and that means the tens of thousands,” she said.
She also dismissed suggestions she had been forced by the Cabinet to backtrack over proposals to include a £30,000 minimum salary threshold for higher skilled workers applying for five-year visas.
The figure was originally recommended by the Migration Advisory Committee, but the white paper said there would be further consultations before it was finalised.
Mrs May said: “We’ve looked at what the Migration Advisory Committee said, we’ve accepted the basis of their proposals for the new immigration system, but what we will do – this is a white paper – is be talking to business about how this system will work for business.”