George Osborne has used an editorial in London’s Evening Standard to ridicule Theresa May’s pledge to reduce immigration to tens of thousands.
The editorial, on the eve of the Tory manifesto launch, mocked her promise as “economically illiterate” and claimed no senior figures in the Cabinet backed it.
Since Mr Osborne became editor of the Standard on 2 May, the paper has launched a number of direct attacks on Mrs May in its editorial columns.
He used his first editorial to criticise her election campaign, suggesting it amounted to “no more than a slogan” and then stoked a Tory rebellion on education funding on his second day.
During the election campaign, the Prime Minister has confirmed that the Conservative manifesto will promise to cut migration to “sustainable levels”, which she says means less than 100,000.
But in a scathing editorial, the Standard declared: “It remains a mystery why the Prime Minister has recommitted her party to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands a year.
“She didn’t need to make this politically rash and economically illiterate move. She was not the author of the pledge; David Cameron made it in Opposition.”
The editorial suggested the Government could not completely control migration levels because the number of people arriving and leaving is subject to the “vagaries of the world economy”.
And the paper, which Mr Osborne began editing after he was sacked by Mrs May in her first act as PM, also claimed that no senior member of Mrs May’s Cabinet backed the pledge in public.
The editorial said: “So you would assume that Mrs May would jump at the chance to bury the pledge.
“That’s what her Cabinet assumed; none of its senior members supports the pledge in private and all would be glad to see the back of something that has caused the Conservative Party such public grief.
“But no. Mrs May has kept digging.”
The editorial also suggested that the Government does not know how to deliver the promise and is “floundering” on the specifics.
It said: “She (Mrs May) knows that a sensible immigration policy is driven by clear principles not arbitrary numbers.
“If one of those principles is no longer to be the freedom to move to work between Britain and Europe, we need to hear what its replacement will be.
“Recommitting to a failed immigration pledge, without knowing how to achieve it, is merely wishful thinking. She still wants to be a new broom. She should use the Tory manifesto tomorrow to sweep away this bad policy from the past.”
UKIP reacted angrily to the suggestion that the Conservative Cabinet does not back the net migration pledge.
John Bickley, the party’s immigration spokesman, said: “Under Cameron and Osborne’s government, which pledged to bring net immigration down to the ‘tens of thousands’, with the explicit support of Mrs May, then Home Secretary, gross immigration ran at just under 600,000 a year.
“Why did Osborne’s Tories make this promise and then so disastrously fail to deliver it? Were they incompetent or misleading the British people, most likely both.”