Revealed – All the times cabinet ministers failed to back May’s tens of thousands pledge

As George Osborne’s Evening Standard comes out against the Government’s ‘tens of thousands’ migration cap, Open Britain reveals every time members of the Cabinet publicly failed to back the policy.

The Evening Standard’s editorial said of the Cabinet that “none of its senior members supports the pledge in private and all would be glad to see the back of something that has caused the Conservative Party such public grief.”

Since Theresa May became Prime Minister, cabinet ministers including Boris Johnson, Amber Rudd, Liam Fox and David Davis have refused to publicly back the cap. Mr Fox even described it as “statistical nonsense.” 

Commenting, Peter Kyle MP, leading supporter of Open Britain, said: 

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that behind closed doors, there is barely a Conservative minister who thinks the ‘tens of thousands’ migration cap is a good idea. 

“The Prime Minister needs to listen to all those on her own side of the argument who clearly believe the cap to be economically damaging and unachievable. 

“In her manifesto tomorrow, she should do the right thing and drop the target.”


Notes to editors: 

  • Theresa May has had to slap down the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary, and the Culture Secretary, after they appeared to suggest the target should be scrapped. 
  • In July 2016, Amber Rudd told the BBC the Government's goal was to see manageable levels of immigration but did not spell out what they were. When pressed on whether the net migration target had been scrapped, she replied: 

"I'm going to stick to my comment which is about bringing it down to sustainable levels. That has to be the most important thing for the country."

Amber Rudd, BBC News, July 19th 2016,

  • The next day the Prime Minister contradicted two of her most senior ministers, claiming that her Government was still committed to reducing net migration to the tens of thousands, but dropping any specific deadline:

“I also remain absolutely firm in my belief that we need to bring net migration down to sustainable levels, the government believes that that is tens of thousands; it will take some time to get there. But of course now we have the added aspect of those controls that we can bring in relation to people moving from the European Union.”

Theresa May, PMQs, 20 July 2016         

  • The Culture Secretary recently refused to be drawn on whether the target to get numbers down to "tens of thousands" would be in the next manifesto. 

"It's not about putting numbers on it, it's about making sure we can deliver where industries need skills, where brightest and best want to come to Britain; we want to be an attractive place that people want to come and work and we want to be the strong economy that pays for those public services people value so much."

Karen Bradley, Sky News, 20 April 2017,

  • Just hours later, the Prime Minister was forced to slap down yet another Cabinet minister, claiming leaving the EU would help to achieve the tens of thousands target.

“We have been very clear, as I was as Home Secretary for six years, that it is important that we have net migration that is in sustainable numbers. We believe sustainable numbers are the tens of thousands. Obviously leaving the European Union means we can bring in control in relation to people moving from the EU into the UK as well as people from outside the EU coming into the United Kingdom.”

Theresa May, Sky News, 20 April 2017,

  • But her Brexit Secretary had previously suggested that migration might go up following the UK’s departure from the EU. 

"I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest. Which means that from time to time we will need more, from time to time we will need less. That is how it will no doubt work and that will be in everybody's interests - the migrants and the citizens of the UK."

David Davis, Question Time Brexit Special, 27 March 2017 

  • Last summer a former minister and Conservative Party chairman suggested that the Tories knew they could never reach their target.

“Promises to get immigration down to the tens-of-thousands has, in my view, never been remotely realistic. It was never likely when David Cameron said it. It’s no more believable when it comes from the Leave camp and, as I’ll describe, it may not even be desirable. Either way it is probably less likely today than it has ever been in the past, despite Thursday’s momentous vote.”

Grant Shapps, Huffington Post, 27 June 2016, 

  • The Secretary of State for International Trade has previously referred to the target as “statistical nonsense” and call for it be dropped.

“While Conservative policy has concentrated on getting down the net migration numbers, it is actual numbers that affect school places, housing and health. The Conservatives must ditch this statistical nonsense.”

Liam Fox, Sunday Telegraph, 1 March 2014,

  • And this March he told a Lords Committee he wanted international students to be removed from the net migration calculation.

Baroness Smith: What scope is there for persuading the Home Office that international students really should not be part of migration figures, and that having them here is really important for international trade. They are not immigrants; they are people who are coming to benefit from a service and contributing to our economy?

Liam Fox: There is an ongoing argument in government on that, and I have made my views clear in private to the Home Secretary. There is a value for those who come to study in the United Kingdom. I 100% accept the point that in many cases they will be imbued by the values that they experience while they are here. Many of them will go on to establish long-term relationships with the United Kingdom, as they understand our institutions. But we should not underestimate the value of us exporting some of our capabilities, not least because those who can come to the United Kingdom are often those who are best off. Our ability to widen the appeal and the reach of our educational standards and the values that go with them could be accentuated by further investment in country. I have spent some time working with our educational sector on this. It is one of the sectors in this country that shows the most appetite for being willing to do that, and it offers us huge opportunities to continue with that. I do not see it as one or the other; I see them both as very complementary.

Liam Fox, Lords Committee on International Relations, oral evidence, 15 March 2017,

  • However, a spokesperson for the PM contradicted Mr Hammond’s assessment.

“Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included”.

PMOS, Mail, 20 October 2016, 

  • While the Health Secretary has previously said he wants to see even higher levels of immigration.

Q: Norway accepts more migrants per head than the UK in gross terms? 

JH: That’s why I’m pushing for Norway plus. We need a version of what Norway have. Access to the single market with sensible restrictions on freedom of movement. That is the vision and I’m putting out a plan of how we wld get there. Not rushing to trigger Article 50.

Jeremy Hunt, GMB, 28 June 2016