EDINBURGH (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May’s governing Conservatives should start a new “grown-up” debate on immigration as Britain leaves the European Union, Scottish Conservatives’ leader Ruth Davidson said on Friday as she questioned government targets.
Davidson, who has more influence in Britain’s ruling party after Scottish election success in June, called for a fresh look at immigration seen by some politicians and businesses as crucial to economic growth but which was central to the Brexit vote with many people saying the rate was too high.
“Immigration is not just about numbers, it’s about people and it’s about the sort of country that we are and want to be,” Davidson told an audience at the Institute for Public Policy Research.
Davidson, who led her party to win 13 seats in Scotland in this year’s election – 12 more than in the last vote – questioned whether the Conservative Party’s target to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands should still hold.
“We have a policy that was designed in 2009/2010 where we had unemployment of 8 percent and a quadrupling of immigration rates in a short period of time (…). Is that still a target we need to have?” she asked, adding that she had spoken to interior minister Amber Rudd about the issue.
With a rapidly ageing population, particularly in rural areas, Scotland is particularly sensitive to the issue of immigration. A decades-long population decline has been reversed in recent years by young migrants arriving from the EU and settling.
According to the Office for National Statistics, Britain’s net migration stood at 246,000 in the 12 months to the end of March, down 81,000 from the previous year and compared with the 336,000 record number that was published just before the Brexit referendum.
Reporting by Elisabeth O’Leary, editing by Pritha Sarkar