Downing Street denied Rishi Sunak has contradictory aims in relation to net migration following reports it could hit a record high of up to one million.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it remained his priority to drive down the overall number of people entering the UK minus those leaving.
It comes after the Daily Telegraph reported ministers are braced for official figures released later in May to show net migration is between 650,000 and 997,000.
This would surpass the previous peak of 504,000 in the year to June 2022 and place pressure on Mr Sunak over the Government’s 2019 pledge to reduce the numbers.
Asked whether Mr Sunak had two contradictory aims – to reduce migration on one hand but boost it on the other – Downing Street said it would “not accept that characterisation”.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “The points-based system allows you to have flexibility to recognise you have shortages in one area and more people to come to work in those professions … and we don’t need any people in another specific area.”
The points-based immigration system assesses applicants for skilled workers visas by considering attributes such as English language fluency, having an offer of employment and suitable qualifications.
The No 10 official refused to “start speculating” ahead of the publication of figures later in May, but added: “The Prime Minister’s overall commitment is to reduce migration overall and that is what we are trying to do through tackling illegal migration and the points-based system, which allows us flexibility based on our own needs.”
Asked whether current trends in increasing migration suggest instead the system is accommodating higher levels to address labour shortages in the UK, the official said: “That’s the point of the points-based system, is to allow us to make the tweaks that are in the national interest.”
The spokesman said he did not believe Mr Sunak had “ever put a figure on” by how much he would like to see migration fall.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the reported expectations showed the Government has “completely lost control” of the issue.
“I think if we’re anywhere near that figure then it will show the Government has completely lost control. We need a managed approach and we haven’t got that,” he said earlier on Friday.
“Like almost everything else under this Government, there’s no plan, there’s no control and, just like everything else, it seems like the system is broken.”
The Office for National Statistics’ figures are due to be published on May 25.