THE Conservatives have pledged to “reduce immigration overall” if they are returned to power on December 12 but stressed they would not set "arbitrary targets" for getting the numbers down.

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, made the pledge as the Tories plan to introduce an Australian-style points-based system.

UK ministers made clear that they were abandoning the party's long-standing and controversial commitment to get net migration down below 100,000 a year; a target they have never met.

Brandon Lewis, the Security Minister, declared: "We are not setting some arbitrary target. We want to introduce a new points-based system that is fair and equal to the entire world. That gives us control and we can then see immigration being reduced."

While the Tories have been committed to the introduction of a points-based system since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister in July, ministers have consistently refused to say whether that would mean cutting immigration levels.

However, in a Conservative Party press statement attacking Labour's immigration plans, Ms Patel this morning committed them to bringing the numbers down once Britain left the EU.

"We will reduce immigration overall while being more open and flexible to the highly skilled people we need, such as scientists and doctors," explained the Home Secretary.

"This can only happen if people vote for a Conservative majority Government so we can leave the EU with a deal," she insisted.

The Conservatives have long faced criticism over the net migration target - the difference between the numbers coming in and the numbers leaving the UK - set out by David Cameron in the party's 2010 election manifesto.

Critics said EU freedom of movement rules and the inability to control the numbers emigrating from the UK meant the Government had no real control over the net migration total.

Mr Lewis acknowledged the Tories had "let people down" by failing to deliver on the promise; he pointed out how this was in part because they had been in coalition with the Liberal Democrats from 2010 to 2015.

"Although we had a majority in coalition, the Liberal Democrats are not renowned for their desire to control immigration," he stressed.

The minister said the Tories would continue to target the net migration figures but declined to give any further detail.

"We want to target net migration so that people can see that we have got control," he added.

The Lib Dems hit back, accusing the Tories of seeking to arbitrarily cut immigration numbers without regard to the consequences.

"Our public services, including our NHS, rely on the contribution that immigrants make but the Tories are willing to put this at risk just to pursue a nationalist Trumpian agenda," claimed Christine Jardine, the party’s home affairs spokeswoman.

Labour, meanwhile, was forced to deny that the party was split over immigration after one of Jeremy Corbyn's key trade union allies rejected calls to extend free movement of labour.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said a party conference motion calling for an extension of free movement was "wrong" unless it was accompanied by stricter labour market regulation.

His comments ahead of the party's Clause V meeting at the weekend to finalise the manifesto angered some activists who wanted to see it honour the conference motion.

However, Laura Pidcock, the Shadow Employment Rights Secretary, said their focus was on tackling "exploitative" employers rather than blaming migrants for undercutting the wages of local workers.

"We know actually that migrant labour does not undercut wages, it is exploitative bosses that seek to undermine national agreements - that's our emphasis," she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme."

"It isn't right that we place the blame on numbers of immigrants for wages. Actually those employers that seek to undermine those national agreements are to blame for the exploitation," she added.

Stuart McDonald, the SNP’s immigration spokesman denounced what he called “Westminster's damaging policies and the demonisation of migrants”.

He said: "The Tories and Labour are threatening Scotland's economy and public services with their damaging hostile migration policies, which could send Scotland's working age population into decline, cause staffing shortages in the NHS and key sectors, and leave the whole country poorer and worse off - a price Scotland must not be forced to pay.

"Westminster has proven itself utterly incapable of acting in Scotland's interests. At this crucial election, only a vote for the SNP is a vote to escape Brexit and put Scotland's future in Scotland's hands, so we can deliver a fairer, more equal and prosperous society,” he added.