The Conservatives may be riding high in the opinion polls over Labour, but the issue of immigration continues to dog the party.

George Osborne, the former Tory chancellor turned Evening Standard editor, has attacked Theresa May over her decision to keep David Cameron's "tens of thousands" net migration pledge as two-year-long Brexit talks begin.

"She didn't need to make this politically rash and economically illiterate move," reads an editorial of the Evening Standard.

"She knows better than almost anyone that net migration — the number of people arriving, minus the number leaving — is not in the gift of government, subject as it is to the vagaries of the world economy.

"Moreover, this target has a perverse incentive, in that the more people you persuade to emigrate from the UK, the more likely you are to hit it."

The article went on to claim that no senior members of May's cabinet back the promise in private and that all "would be glad to see the back of something that has caused the Conservative Party such public grief".

The immigration issue was a major concern during the EU referendum campaign, with Vote Leave endorsing an Australian-style visa points system.

The most recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) release estimated that net migration was at more than 273,000 in the year to September 2016, well above the Conservative target. The result is that voters do not trust May, a former home secretary, on the subject.

An Ipsos MORI survey, of more than 1,000 voters between 26 and 28 April, found that two in three (68%) respondents thought that the party would fail to deliver on the flagship pledge.

"Under Cameron and Osborne's government, which pledged to bring net immigration down the 'tens of thousands', with the explicit support of May, then home secretary, gross immigration ran at just under 600,000 a year," said Ukip immigration spokesman John Bickley.

"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.

"We don't need lessons from a failed chancellor, who having promised to eliminate the deficit within one Parliament, missed his own target by a country mile."