George Osborne has conceded the government will not meet its immigration target – but opposition gloating is being curtailed by Labour infighting.
The chancellor suggested David Cameron's "no ifs, no buts" promise to reduce net migration to below 100,000 would not be achieved by the coalition government before 2015 in a newspaper interview.
"We've set out our ambition, we are committed to that ambition, and as you see with the Immigration Act now coming into effect we are delivering the actual changes that will help us control our borders," he told the Sun on Sunday.
"That requires renegotiation of our membership of the EU, an in-out referendum so the British people have their say. The point that people need to focus on is that a general election is not a free hit, it matters who the government is."
His confirmation that the immigration promise has been downgraded to an "ambition" was pounced upon by Labour, which said ministers' "target obsession" had driven away university students and investment opportunities.
"George Osborne is left misleading people about Labour's plans when it is his government that has failed to listen to our calls for stronger border controls and enforcement, refused to tackle illegal immigration and failed to meet its own target," shadow immigration minister David Hanson said.
But Labour faces difficult headlines of its own about immigration this weekend, with the publication of an open letter by backbenchers criticising Ed Miliband's approach to the issue.
The letter, from seven MPs including Frank Field and Kate Hoey, warns that communities of Labour voters were being hurt by ongoing immigration.
"Whilst the benefits of mass migration have been served in abundance to many wealthy people, who are in a position to take advantage of cheap labour, we believe that the lack of affordable housing, school places, hospital capacity and transport infrastructure to accommodate this influx of people means that poorer people's living standards have been squeezed," the letter, published in the Observer newspaper, stated.
"As things now stand there is nothing to suggest that we won't face large numbers coming to settle here over the next decade."