Conservative plans to cut annual net migration to less than 100,000 people could lead to “catastrophic consequences” for the economy, a think tank has warned.
High employment, an ageing population and low productivity mean the UK needs at least 200,000 workers per year – more than double the Conservative target – to alleviate the crisis in public services and protect the economy, Global Future said.
In a new report, the think tank said the current political debate on migration was “dishonest” and both Labour and the Tories had failed to challenge “outdated and backward-looking” ideas that Britain would be better off with lower net migration.
It comes as a senior Conservative admitted that no timetable had been set out to get the numbers down from the current figure of 273,000.
Global Future chief executive Gurnek Bains said: “Fewer immigrants will be bad for Britain’s economy, businesses, finances and public services.
“There are now political leaders from across the political spectrum who either pretend lower immigration will solve every problem or connive in this deceit.
“These politicians are not only selling voters short – they are selling our country short, too.”
The report, which was backed by a number of industry groups, also said clarifying the position of EU nationals should be a priority to prevent “an unwanted exodus” of workers from the UK.
The Tory manifesto published on Thursday retained the 100,000 target, which has never been met since being introduced by David Cameron.
Sir Michael Fallon said it was an “ambition” to get the numbers down but said the economic cost of the policy could not be calculated because there was no fixed deadline.
Pressed on the cost on BBC Two’s Newsnight, Sir Michael said: “We haven’t set out a formulation of how much it will reduce by each year, what we have set out is our ambition to continue to bear down on immigration.”
Brexit would make it easier, because of the end to freedom of movement, he suggested.
His comments provoked anger from political rivals as Ukip’s immigration spokesman John Bickley accused the Tories of “taking the British people for mugs”.
Mr Bickley told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I was shocked to hear Michael Fallon effectively just brush off the fact that after six years of talking about bringing immigration down to the tens of thousands … I looked at their manifesto and actually I couldn’t find the immigration section at first – it’s at the back end of the manifesto, it doesn’t even have a chapter heading,” he said.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron told the Press Association: “It is a reminder Theresa May has set immigration targets throughout her time as home secretary and now as Prime Minister and has failed to meet them.
“It is about the Conservatives now being basically Ukip.”