Business Secretary Vince Cable has criticised David Cameron’s rhetoric on cutting immigration, saying it risks “inflaming” extremism. His words have created a rift in the Coalition, says Gary Gibbon.
The Liberal Democrat said David Cameron’s proposals to see the number of foreign workers coming to the UK every year slashed to tens of thousands was “not part of the coalition agreement” but was “Tory party policy only”.
The outburst is being seen as an insight into deep tensions between Tories and Lib Dems, with Mr Cable warning a cap would prevent British universities and companies recruiting the brightest talent from abroad.
His comments come with only three weeks until the first local elections since the coalition was formed and seemed to have rankled the Business Secretary.
He said: “The reference to the tens of thousands of immigrants rather than hundreds of thousands is not part of the coalition agreement. It is Tory party policy only. I do understand there is an election coming but talk of mass immigration risks inflaming the extremism to which he and I are both strongly opposed.”
The Prime Minister is expected to use a speech later to say he wants to see “good immigration, not mass immigration” in the UK.
He will blame the previous Labour Government for not dealing with the issue, claiming that between 1997 and 2009 net immigration reached 2.2 million – “the largest influx of people Britain has ever had”.
In his toughest speech on the controversial issue since winning the 2010 election, David Cameron will suggest that the influx has left schools and hospitals struggling to cope, with communities suffering from “discomfort and disjointedness” due to a lack of integration.
I want to get the policy right: good immigration, not mass immigration. Prime Minister David Cameron
“I want to get the policy right: good immigration, not mass immigration. That’s why I believe it’s time for a new approach – one which opens up debate, not closes it down; where politicians don’t just talk, but actually act,” he will say.
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes attempted to hose down anxieties that the Coalition is under strain ahead of next month’s local elections.
Mr Hughes said the Lib Dems and Conservatives would be locked in government together for five years because “to do otherwise would be irresponsible”.
And he admitted that it took his party “some time” after the General Election to “get our act together and make the most of the opportunities of being in government”.
“It is a practical business relationship. It is an agreement for five years, because we need five years to deal with the deficit, to rebuild our economy and make Britain a fairer place,” he said.
“It is an agreement for actions we have started, and so we’ll finish. To do otherwise would be irresponsible.”
Mr Cameron will say the Coalition has already made good progress on bringing down net immigration to the tens of thousands, rather than hundreds of thousands.
The UK Border Agency has almost cleared a back-log of nearly 500,000 asylum cases, while employers will only be allowed to recruit 20,700 workers from outside Europe in the next 12 months.
The Prime Minister also plans tighter controls on student visas, and those with temporary visas will find it more difficult to remain permanently in the UK. There will also be “transitional” limits on the numbers of migrants from countries joining the European Union in the future.
He will say the authorities should not fear “cultural sensitivities” in clamping down on forced and sham marriages. Colleges will only be able to offer degree-level courses to students with a “proper grasp” of English, and only post-graduates will be able to bring dependants to the UK.
Read more: Channel 4 News political editor Gary Gibbon on how immigration is dividing the coalition.
As part of a package of measures designed to cut student visas by 80,000 a year, foreign students will not be allowed to work while in the UK, and only those offered a graduate-level skilled job with a minimum salary will be allowed to stay. There will be a new “Entrepreneur Visa” to attract talent and investment, and tier one visas will only be available to “exceptional talent”.
Problems in the visa system will also be tackled, making it more difficult for those claiming to be skilled workers to enter the UK.
He will suggest that cutting immigration and ending Britain’s so-called “benefits culture” go hand-in-hand, saying that foreign workers could not be blamed for taking jobs if the country’s “woeful” benefits system encouraged many Britons to live on hand-outs.
He will say: “The real issue is this: migrants are filling gaps in the labour market left wide open by a welfare system that for years has paid British people not to work. That’s where the blame lies – at the door of our woeful welfare system, and the last Government who comprehensively failed to reform it.
Read more on welfare reform: is benefits culture a myth?
“So, immigration and welfare reform are two sides of the same coin. Put simply, we will never control immigration properly unless we tackle welfare dependency. That’s another powerful reason why this Government is undertaking the biggest shake-up of the welfare system for generations, making sure that work will always pay and ending the option of living a life on the dole when a life in work is possible.”
Mr Cameron will also say that a proper debate on immigration will “starve extremist parties of the oxygen of public anxiety they thrive on, and extinguish them once and for all.”
“If we take the steps set out today, and deal with all the different avenues of migration, legal and illegal, then levels of immigration can return to where they were in the 1980s and 90s, a time when immigration was not a front rank political issue…Yes, Britain will always be open to the best and brightest from around the world and those fleeing persecution.
“But with us, our borders will be under control and immigration will be at levels our country can manage,” he will say.