DAVID Cameron insisted that his ambition to reduce net migration to the UK to below 100,000 people a year remains “achievable” despite official figures showing the number has soared.
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed net long-term migration was estimated to be 318,000 in 2014 and the Prime Minister acknowledged the figures showed “how far we have to go to reach our goal”.
The data showed that 641,000 immigrants came to the UK in 2014 – up by more than 100,000, from 526,000 in 2013.
The ONS net migration figure – which denotes the number of people entering the country minus the number leaving – is the highest for a calendar year since current records started in 1975 and the second highest for any 12-month period.
The peak figure was 320,000, which was recorded in the year to June 2005. Estimated net migration rose by a “statistically significant” 109,000 compared to 2013 – the biggest increase for a calendar year on record.
Mr Cameron announced a package of measures to crack down on illegal workers and said he would chair a government taskforce to deal with immigration.
The plans, which will be part of an Immigration Bill in the Queen’s Speech, include a new offence of illegal working which will give police powers to use proceeds-of-crime laws to seize wages from all illegal migrants.
The Prime Minister, who claimed he had been held back in efforts to limit immigration by the Liberal Democrats during the five years of coalition government, said: “Britain is one of the most successful multi-racial democracies in the world. I am so proud of that.
“But to sustain that success, immigration needs to be controlled. After all, that was the clear instruction at the election. With this Immigration Bill, with these other measures, with our EU renegotiations and with a fully Conservative government, we will do just that.
“Our approach will be tougher, fairer and faster. It will put an end to the houses packed full of illegal workers, stop people stalling deportation with spurious appeals, give British people the skills to do the jobs we need and deliver what people want – what they voted for.
“We’ve got the majority to do that now. We’re not wasting a second. So we’re going to get on – and we’re going to do it.”
Mr Cameron said the ONS figures “show that, more than ever, this country needs a majority Conservative Government which really aims to get net migration into the tens of thousands, and that should remain our ambition”.
The Prime Minister continued: “It’s disappointing that we haven’t made more progress, but I take these figures as a clear instruction to deliver and to deliver faster.”
Mr Cameron said a key part of the drive would involve changes to welfare rules, so EU migrants who come to the UK without a job offer have to leave after six months if they fail to find work, and cannot claim in-work benefits for four years.
Mr Cameron announced a consultation on changes to “significantly” reduce migration by professionals whose skills are deemed by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to be in short supply – a list which usually includes a number of medical specialities.
The MAC may be required to limit the period of time a profession can be considered to be in shortage, in order to encourage sectors that are “over-reliant” on migrants to train more Britons.
Mr Cameron blamed Liberal Democrats in the coalition government for holding back action to reduce immigration, and said the Conservative-only administration would be able to deliver a system that was “tougher, fairer and faster”.
Lib Dem peer Lord Paddick said: “The Tories promised to cut net migration to tens of thousands but failed spectacularly. Instead of admitting their target was a stupid idea, they have pushed the ‘let’s sound tough on immigration’ button yet again.”
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “David Cameron is taking people for fools. On the day he has promised yet again to cut net migration to the tens of thousands, these figures show it is over three times that target.
“Both EU and non-EU net migration are considerably higher than in June 2010, after five years of David Cameron and Theresa May’s broken promises.
“This massive gap between rhetoric and reality, between promise and delivery, just destroys trust in anything ministers say on immigration.”