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STEPHEN GLOVER: If ministers fail to honour their Brexit promises on immigration, the public will be rightly furious

Only a few deluded Corbynistas would dispute that uncontrolled immigration was a major factor in the EU referendum result.

It’s no coincidence that many of the areas that voted for Brexit have experienced high levels of immigration in recent years.

David Cameron in particular has good reason to regret that he did not did take the issue more seriously.

For despite his pledge in 2010 to reduce net immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’, the numbers have been increasing quickly in recent years after a brief respite, and stand close to an all-time high.

New Home Office Secretary Amber Rudd has used 'mealy-mouthed' language since taking the post

It follows the new Government must show that it realises that most people want the figures to be brought down, and that, after previous abject failures, it has a coherent plan to do so.

Alas, the early signs are not encouraging. There seems, at best, to be a great deal of confusion; at worst, a lack of resolution to tackle the problem with the determination that the public has a right to expect.

On Tuesday, the new Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, dropped a spanner in the works when she suggested that the Government will jettison any target for reducing the number of foreigners moving to the UK to live. She said it wanted to reduce net immigration to ‘sustainable levels’. That is a mealy-mouthed phrase, if there ever was one.

Then Boris Johnson endorsed Ms Rudd by saying that she was ‘entirely right to be careful about committing to numbers because one doesn’t want to be in a position where you are disappointing people again’.

This is the same Boris Johnson who said during the referendum campaign that it would be impossible to bring down immigration to the tens of thousands unless voters backed Leave. Now that they have done so, and he is Foreign Secretary, he appears strangely bashful.

No 10’s immediate response was to muddy the waters further. Theresa May’s spokesman said she ‘does see sustainable levels as down to the tens of thousands’, but refused to commit to a specific target.

At Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, Mrs May said something very similar while adding, rather ominously, that ‘it will take some time to get there, but now we have the added aspect of controls we can bring in relation to people moving from the EU’.

Note that while she appeared to contradict Ms Rudd and Mr Johnson by reviving the notion of tens of thousands, the Prime Minister also suggested this would not be achievable in the foreseeable future. Moreover, she spoke of ‘controls’ on free movement, not ending it.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson endorsed Ms Rudd by saying that she was ¿entirely right to be careful about committing to numbers because one doesn¿t want to be in a position where you are disappointing people again¿

Suddenly, I feel as though we are on shifting sands. Brexit has given the Government the power to regulate immigration from the EU just as we already have the power to restrict numbers from outside the EU.

One would have thought that this development would give senior ministers such as Amber Rudd and Boris Johnson the confidence that it might, at last, be feasible to get numbers below 100,000 a year, as David Cameron promised back in 2010.

But it hasn’t. Both ministers have seemingly retreated from a commitment that should now be within our grasp, while Mrs May has chosen to emphasise that it is going to take ‘some time’ to fulfil it.

Could it be that after all that has happened — the unexpected outcome of the referendum and the defenestration of Mr Cameron — the new Government still does not understand at a profound level how fears about uncontrolled immigration helped to shape the Brexit result?

I suspect that in their hearts, neither Mr Johnson nor Ms Rudd is especially worried about the high numbers. After all, as Mayor of London, Mr Johnson often spoke of the many advantages of mass migration, and seldom of its disadvantages.

Though he sang from a different hymn sheet during the campaign, as soon as it was over he wrote a newspaper article suggesting that immigration wasn’t the main concern of Leave voters.

As for Ms Rudd (a zealot for Remain during the campaign), she represents the coastal marginal constituency of Hastings and Rye, which she spoke of in surprisingly disparaging terms in a 2013 newspaper interview. She said: ‘You get people who are on benefits, who prefer to be on benefits by the seaside. They’re not moving down here to get a job, they’re moving down here to have easier access to friends and drugs and drink.’

Immigration has been a very live issue in Hastings on account of large influxes of EU migrants. But there’s not much evidence that this highly privileged former banker is on the same wavelength as many of her hard-pressed constituents.

But what of Mrs May? Is she also pretty relaxed about uncontrolled immigration? That seems unlikely. As Home Secretary for six years, she battled to bring down the number of immigrants from outside the EU — particularly focusing on bogus students — though, of course, she was unable to have any effect on EU immigration because of rules about free movement of labour.

British Prime Minister Theresa May began her first foreign trip in Berlin yesterday where she met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and were expected to speak about the recent EU referendum result

And yet, despite her efforts, her record on non-EU migration was far from flawless. In 2015, net migration was 333,000, of which 149,000 came from outside the EU. It’s true she faced resistance over several years from the then-Chancellor, George Osborne, who was passionately pro-immigration in all its forms.

All the same, it can’t be denied that Mrs May was unable to bring down immigration from outside the EU, which is entirely within this country’s control, to the tens of thousands — leave aside for a moment the large numbers coming from the EU.

This only highlights the challenges facing the new Government. If immigration really is to be reduced to the tens of thousands, it will not be good enough to place restrictions on the EU, though that is an absolutely vital first step. There will also have to be further limits on those seeking entry from outside Europe.

That would inevitably entail curtailing the numbers of students, who comprise over half non-EU migrants. Imagine the hysterical complaints from British universities, many of which rely on foreign students for a sizeable chunk of their income.

All these problems will pile up on the desk of new Home Secretary Amber Rudd, which doubtless largely explains why she is trying to wriggle out of what is still a 2015 Tory manifesto pledge.

She has looked at the arithmetic, and she knows how difficult it is going to be to meet the target of tens of thousands, even if we do a favourable deal with the EU over free movement of people, which we obviously must.

Little or none of this, of course, was pointed out by either side during the referendum campaign. Politicians in the Leave camp gave the impression that if only we could control our borders, immigration would plummet and all would be well. It’s not as simple as that.

I am certain that most people now expect and want mass migration to be properly managed. After all that has happened, they won’t put up with waffle about ‘sustainable levels’ or assurances that the issue will eventually be addressed at some unspecified point in the future.

It’s not going to be easy for Theresa May and the new Government to deliver. But if they don’t, there will be a loss of trust in the political process which could make the Brexit vote look like a minor ripple.

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