Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt clash with May on immigration policy

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Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson have this week announced their opposition to May’s “Fortress Britain” immigration policy in plans to bring down barriers for talented overseas workers. 

Mr Johnson said he would open the UK’s doors to high-skilled migrants such as scientists, whilst looking to move closer to an Australian-style points-based immigration system.

Mr Hunt promised to get rid of the Conservatives’ most high-profile immigration target introduced by David Cameron in 2010, the pledge to keep net migration below 100k, which has not been met once since then.

Frontrunner in the contest for Conservative party leader Mr Johnson states that he has “always been in favour of talented people being able to come to this country and make their lives. We simply need to ensure democratic control.”

Backing his decision to get rid of the net migration target, Mr Hunt said, “We’re not going to be a country that changes from Great Britain into Little England and pulls down the shutters and says, ‘Foreigners not welcome’.”

The candidates’ move to bring down one of Mrs May’s most fiercely defended policies comes at a time of changing public attitudes. Immigration concerns were prominent in the 2016 referendum, but the percentage of Britons believing migrants have a positive effect on the UK has risen from 19% in 2011 to 48% this year, according to Ipsos Mori. Voters are now more focused on Brexit than on immigration alone. 

Sajid Javid, anticipating a change of political direction, has reversed some of Mrs May’s decisions, including reinstating rules to allow international students to work for two years after the end of their course. This week he has indicated that he would like to lower minimum salary thresholds for work visas.

Both Tory leadership candidates have also long indicated a more liberal approach than Mrs May, who raised barriers to foreign students and spoke of weaning business off its “addiction” to foreign labour.

Mr Johnson is proud of his “one-man melting pot” status, with a mixed heritage of Muslim, Jewish and Christian ancestry, and spending his time as mayor of London looking to improve the city’s cosmopolitan credentials.

During his 2012 trip to India, Mr Johnson described rules making it more difficult for students from the subcontinent to attend universities in the UK as “crazy”. 

Mr Hunt had his own differences with Mrs May, most notably when she tried to prevent his plans as culture secretary to ease visa rules for high-spending Chinese tourists. Later, as health secretary, Mr Hunt reportedly clashed again with the Prime Minister after she denied his requests for a temporary relaxation of curbs on skilled workers to allow more foreign doctors into the National Health Service.

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