“We have been blown off course by the rise in European migration into the UK,” Mrs May said. “That’s partly because our economy is doing better than other economies in Europe. So it’s now unlikely that we’re going to meet our tens of thousands target by the end of the Parliament.”
Mrs May also warned that the threat to the UK from terror groups like Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) is greater than at any previous time and warned that the lure of jihadism must be combated by restoring British values.
Her comments came as she prepared to unveil the Government’s Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, which will contain a series of measures designed to prevent British-born jihadists who have travelled to Iraq and Syria returning to the UK. In the interview, Mrs May also:
- Called on internet companies and social media sites to recognise their “responsibilities” and prevent extremist videos and propaganda being distributed online;
- Disclosed that UK counter-terrorism officers have removed more than 40,000 items from the internet that promote terrorism;
- Insisted Britain can get changes to the freedom of movement rules that allow an unlimited number of EU citizens to live and work in the UK.
Mrs May is the first senior minister to admit that the Government is “unlikely” to hit its net migration target. It will come as a blow to Mr Cameron, who is facing growing pressure to toughen up his rhetoric on immigration and the European Union ahead of the general election.
However, Mrs May said that she is “positive” Britain will be able to negotiate changes to the freedom of movement rules that allow an unlimited number of migrants from other EU countries.
“I am positive that there is a changing mood within Europe,” she said. “I’ve seen it. I’ve been talking about the need to deal with free movement, particularly the abuse of free movement, for four years now and increasingly I have seen other countries recognising that this is an issue.
“We talk to other countries like the Dutch and the Germans and others about this issue. There is a growing mood within other countries in Europe to be dealing with this which is why I think it is not just right that we have this as an issue, but I think it is an issue on which we will be able to negotiate some change.”
Labour said that the admission on net migration showed that the Government’s migration target “is in tatters”.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said: “Theresa May has finally admitted that her net migration target is in tatters yet she still won’t take responsibility for it.
“The Prime Minister promised ‘no ifs no buts’ to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands, and Theresa May has spent four years claiming she was on track. Net migration is now more than twice her target and rising – and she has finally been forced to admit her target is ‘unlikely’. Continually making and breaking grand promises on immigration is only undermining confidence in the entire system.”
Mrs May’s comments came amid suggestions that Mr Cameron is preparing to use his speech to call for a ban on EU migrants claiming in-work benefits such as tax credits when they move to Britain.