RUTH Davidson has questioned the Conservatives' long-standing target of reducing net migration below 100,000, leading to claims of a split at the top of the party.

The Scottish Tory leader, who has previously defended the target, said it was time to ask whether it continued to be desirable in light of Brexit's "big reset button".

Writing in a newspaper column, Ms Davidson, whose recent electoral success has raised her standing in the UK party, said: “The time for easy slogans is over.”

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Labour said the comments revealed “deep splits" in Tory ranks over the issue.

Ms Davidson said neither the Conservatives or Labour had tried to have a “meaningful discussion with the public about the merits and drawbacks of immigration”.

Describing it in positive terms, she said a mature and rational debate was needed about the economic and social consequences of 8.6m UK residents hailing from another country.

Since David Cameron promised to reduce net migration below 100,000 at the 2010 general election, the UK government has never hit the target - last year it was 248,000.

Ms Davidson wrote: “By 2010, pollsters reported that immigration was consistently a top concern to voters.

“Since then, of course, the British government has failed to hit its self-imposed ‘tens of thousands’ target in any year.

“Brexit is a big reset button and should – in theory – make that much easier to do so. But we have to ask whether the target continues to be the right one.”

Ms Davidson highlighted the recent warning from the Registrar General of Scotland about a rapidly ageing population and the need for taxes from working age migrants.

“It is clear that if we want Britain’s economy to grow, in order to increase the tax receipts that fund our public services, we need to take action,” she said.

She suggested UK business do more to improve the skills of their workers and called on Downing Street to remove students from the net migration figures.

Labour’s shadow Scotland Office Minister Paul Sweeney said: “The Tories are in open warfare and these comments from Ruth Davidson show just deep the splits in the party run.

“When the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, who defends abhorrent policies such as the rape clause, tells Theresa May that she needs to think again then you know just how wrong the Prime Minister is.

"Our elderly population is expected to grow significantly, while the working-age population is forecast to increase only marginally, which shows how wrong-headed the Tory approach is.”

The SNP questioned whether Ms Davidson was genuine or simply posturing on immigration.

MP Stuart McDonald said: “Brexit threatens to be economically disastrous for Scotland, and it seems Ruth Davidson is only now waking up to that fact.

“But the person who needs to be persuaded is her boss in Downing Street, Theresa May – and the PM shows no sign of ditching her reckless pursuit of a hard Brexit.

“These comments follow a whole series of U-turns from Ms Davidson – first she said the case for leaving the EU was based on ‘lies’, then she claimed single market membership should be our ‘overriding priority,’ before becoming a cheerleader for the Tories’ hard Brexit.”

LibDem MSP Tavish Scott added: “So far Ruth Davidson has failed to show she has a jot of influence on the Prime Minister’s cold and mean-spirited vision of Britain outside Europe. “She makes up a new policy a day to appear reasonable and is ignored by Tory Brexiteers.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats have always been clear that people who have come here to work or study help our public services, add to our tax base and provide a richer society.

“Ruth Davidson needs to end her support for a Brexit that will leave us all worse off.”

A Downing Street source said Ms Davidson’s suggestions “weren’t going to happen”.