Cameron 'told migration target was impossible four years ago'

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David Cameron’s former strategy guru has claimed that officials told the prime minister four years ago that it would be impossible to meet his immigration target from within the EU. Steve Hilton, who is now campaigning for Brexit alongside Boris Johnson, said Whitehall officials told the prime minister “directly and explicitly” that the pledge to bring down net migration to tens of thousands would fail.

Hilton was Cameron’s closest aide and adviser during the 2010 election, but has become a thorn in his side during the referendum campaign. He told the Daily Mail that Cameron persisted with the target, set in the 2010 manifesto, despite being told it was not deliverable.

“We were told, directly and explicitly, that it was impossible for the government to meet its immigration target as long as we remained members of the EU, which of course insists on the free movement of people within it.

“You don’t need to sit in a stocktake meeting at No 10 Downing Street to see the obvious truth: our immigration system is completely broken, and as long as we’re in the EU, our elected governments are powerless to fix it.

“In the 2015 Conservative manifesto, the prime minister reaffirmed his commitment to the immigration target he had been told was undeliverable. When I saw that, I assumed this was either because he was certain he could negotiate a solution within the EU, or was assuming we would leave.

“For the government to continue to make the promise today, after no negotiated solution was achieved and while campaigning to stay, is, I think, what [Michael] Gove and Johnson meant when they described this as corrosive of trust in politics.”

Cameron has refrained from criticising his friend during the campaign, but the latest intervention may be one too far. Last month, Hilton – who moved to the US after a couple of years in Downing Street and wrote a book called More Human – said he was sure Cameron was instinctively on the side of leaving the EU in remarks that were strongly denied. “If he were a member of the public or a backbench MP, or a junior minister or even a cabinet minister, I’m certain he would be for leave,” he said.

He also said he remembered a meeting in the early days on Cameron’s team in which it was agreed that leaving the EU would be in Britain’s best interests.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 21st June 2016 00.51 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010