RUTH Davidson’s call for the Conservatives to abandon their long-standing immigration target has been given short shrift by Theresa May’s number two.

Damian Green, the First Secretary of State and effective deputy Prime Minister, said the target had been set below 100,000 in order to deliver “sustainable” immigration.

Many people also voted for Brexit to cut immigration and “we should respect that”, he said.

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Earlier this week the Scottish Tory leader prompted claims of a split at the top of her party on immigration by said it was time to rethink the target because of the “big reset button” of Brexit.

“The time for easy slogans is over,” she said pointedly, accusing both Labour and the Tories of failing to have a meaningful debate with the public about the pros and cons of migration.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to cut net migration to “tens of thousands” in the 2010 election, but the target has never been hit, and last year the figure was 248,000.

Ms Davidson wrote: “We have to ask whether the target continues to be the right one.”

Highlighting positive aspects of migration, she suggested it was vital to make Britain's economy grow and provide tax receipts for public services.

Mr Green, who was immigration minister from 2010 to 2012, said Ms Davidson had “an extremely interesting viewpoint” and was right to call for rational debate on immigration.

However he added: “The overall purpose of the government’s immigration policy is to have immigration at sustainable levels. We do identify that as being in the tens of thousands.

“It’s clear one of the forces behind the Brexit vote was a feeling in some parts of the UK that immigration had been allowed to be too high for too long and I think we should respect that.

“Clearly what we want to do is have an immigration policy that allows businesses to bring in the talent that’s needed, the specialist skills that we need in this country, and maintains Britain’s reputation as an open trading country, as an outward looking country.”

He also dismissed the SNP’s ambition for immigration to be devolved to Holyrood.

“Immigration has always been a reserved power for obvious practical reasons. Nobody wants any kind of border control inside the UK and I can’t see that changing.”

Labour said Ms Davidson’s comments exposed “deep splits” within the Tories on the issue, while the SNP suggested she was posturing.

A Number 10 source said this week Ms Davidson’s suggestions “weren’t going to happen”.