David Cameron rejects Cable immigration criticism

Vince Cable and David Cameron Vince Cable and David Cameron have not always seen eye-to-eye on the issue

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David Cameron has hit back at criticism by cabinet colleague Vince Cable over his promise to cut immigration to "tens of thousands" of people a year.

The Lib Dem business secretary said the prime minister had been "very unwise" and that such a target was Conservative - not coalition government - policy.

He added that Mr Cameron's comments, made in a speech to Tory activists, "risked inflaming extremism".

But the prime minister denied this and said his words had been "measured".

Labour leader Ed Miliband said ministers had to "get a grip" on immigration and stop fighting amongst themselves.

The Conservatives' 2010 election manifesto calls for "steps to take net migration back to the levels of the 1990s - tens of thousands a year, not hundreds of thousands".

However, the coalition agreement between the Conservatives and Lib Dems pledges only an "annual limit" on people coming to the UK from outside the European Union for economic reasons, making no reference to specific numbers.


But in his speech, which took place in Southampton, Mr Cameron said the government's cap on immigrant numbers would "mean net migration to this country will be in the order of tens of thousands each year, not the hundreds of thousands every year that we have seen over the last decade".

Communities had been affected by incomers unable to speak English and unwilling to integrate, he argued, which had "created a kind of discomfort and disjointedness in some neighbourhoods".

He added: "This has been the experience for many people in our country - and I believe it is untruthful and unfair not to speak about it and address it."

But Mr Cable, who has spoken out on several occasions about the economic dangers of imposing a cap on immigration, criticised the wording of the speech, telling BBC chief political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg: "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."

But the prime minister rejected the criticism, saying policy was "sensible and measured" and that, following discussions between the coalition partners on how to reduce immigration without damaging the economy, the issue had been "settled".

"We have a very good and robust policy and this is the policy of the whole government," he said. "This policy is Lib Dem policy. This policy is coalition policy."

'Choice of language'

Mr Cable, however, refused to back down on the issue, when questioned, telling BBC Manchester: "The reference to tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands of people is not part of coalition policy."

He added: "My references were about the language used and I stand by that, but it's not a criticism of coalition policy."

Mr Cable said he had meant to make a "positive contribution to the debate".

The strength of Vince Cable's language is really quite unusual, remarkable even.

The coalition's policy on immigration was the result of difficult negotiations between the two parties - the Lib Dems wanted a more relaxed approach to limiting numbers coming here, the Conservatives a tougher one.

Vince Cable personally fought for and secured certain concessions which he felt were needed to prevent a cap damaging British businesses.

After those negotiations, a kind of truce was reached, but Mr Cable clearly thinks David Cameron's comments break that truce.

The business secretary's remarks must also be seen in the context of the upcoming local elections and AV referendum.

This is the first time that two parties who've had to get used to working together have been pitted against each other.

It seems this could be the first proper skirmish.

Aides to deputy prime minister, and Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, who unlike Mr Cable saw a copy of the speech before it was released, said he was "proud" of the work both he and Mr Cable had done on the coalition's "sensible" immigration policy.

But they added: "Cameron's language isn't what we would have used… but he's a Conservative leader talking to Conservative voters in the run-up to an election."

Mr Cable was "entitled to the view" that there had been a truce in the coalition over immigration policy, but that was not Mr Clegg's view, the source said.

Before entering power, the Lib Dems were opposed to a fixed limit on immigration and backed an amnesty for some illegal incomers already living in the UK.

'Get a grip'

Labour says the cap, which was introduced recently, will only cover 20% of non-EU migrants and the government is cutting 5,000 staff at the UK Border Agency.

Mr Miliband said: "It's hard to have a government policy that is clear and coherent if your business secretary, who's in charge of your student visa policy, is saying one thing and actually going out of his way to attack the prime minister.

"The next time he makes a speech why don't they get a grip, have a proper discussion in government, get an agreed policy, because that's the right way to run a government."

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said little would change on immigration because of the UK's "open border" with the EU.

But former Labour minister Frank Field, co-chairman of the cross-party balanced migration group, said Mr Cameron was on the "right course" in requiring all those wishing to settle in the UK to speak basic English and making it "much tougher" for those working in the UK to eventually gain citizenship.

Asked about criticism of the prime minister's approach, he said immigration policy had been out of step with public opinion for many years because it had been determined by a "liberal elite".

"They will be angry that that period is now at an end," he told the BBC.

Sir Andrew Green, Chairman of pressure group Migration Watch, said: "We should remember that Vince Cable speaks for a tiny minority of the public.

"According to our most recent YouGov opinion poll, conducted last November, only 4% of Lib Dem voters agreed that the present level of immigration is best for Britain, 78% wanted 100,000 or less, 19% did not know".

A graph showing long-term net migration rising

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  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I'd also suggest to Vince Cable that maintaining the culture and values of the UK is more important to the people here (of all races) than economic growth. China is doing better economically than the UK, but I don't want to live there because I don't share that nations values. Money isn't the be all and end all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    It's awful to admit, but Cameron has a point. I'm all for people coming here, but they are not integrating. The change is obvious. Parents with their kids are resolutely sticking to their languages and culture - I was treated to what appeared to be a muslim gentleman lambasting his cowering wife last week on the bus, and yes, I'm sure born & bred brits do the same, but there has been a sea change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Can we leave racism right out of this. The fact is that UK is grossly overpopulated, compare it to any other European state - short on housing - motorways choc a bloc - just too many people altogether. We are the same population as France but with half the land.So yes - let us limit immigration with the proviso that skilled people who can help the economy of the country should be fast tracked in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Why did Cameron and Clegg gleefully invite thousands of Gurkhas to live in the UK without making provision for them ? The public services in the Aldershot area are now overwhelmed - just the type of situation he now says should be avoided.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    re 22 - Net EU migration is small compared to Non EU migration - look at the blue vs the yellow in the graph,so I do not undestand your point Chelseaborn

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    I think the problem most people have with the figures of non-EU immigration being so high is that it the people coming here have different values and beliefs. In our form of democratic government that dilutes the power of the rest of the population to maintain a government who represents their traditional values and culture. Immigration levels (or Cap) should be directly voted upon (referendum?)

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    I hate agreeing with the soft-chinned PR man running our country, but on this (one) issue I find myself agreeing.

    People can talk all they like about 'diversity' and our 'history of immigration', but I imagine these people have never been into the ghettos of our towns where you may as well be in another country where the locals want whitey out, and aren't afraid to let you know it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    The LIB/Dems have really lost the plot, do they not understand the underling feelings of the Nation, they were already well down in the polls, this will have them scrapping the bottom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    There is a big problem with the assertion that net migration is so large. The graph only shows British Nationals who leave the UK are counted, clearly some of those who have come to the UK also leave. We stopped counting them years ago but the reality must be that rather than net migration increasing by 2.2 million between 97 and 2010 it was in reality a much smaller number.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Adults learning English across the country would love to find work, help their children with school and be able to use health services without the need for an interpreter. As this government has removed funding support for those on benefits (except JSA) and thus effectively closed the doors of learning for them is it any wonder communities remain divided and women trapped at home?

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    It's sad we are unable to discuss this issue without it creating instant hysteria. Immigration has transformed the character of English society and the indigenous population weren't party to the decisions which allowed this to happen. It's not the fact of immigration that most are concerned about, it is the lack of any controls and the growing lack of integration by the groups who have settled.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Welcome to coalition government! Actually, I think it's great that in a mature democracy politicians can debate these issues publicly (thus involving the electorate) rather than keeping it all behind closed doors towing the party line.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    What a complete smokescreen! Cameron plays to the Little Englander audience about being tough on immigration while all the time (along with Cable) pushing for no limts being set on intra-company trasfers within transnational organisations as part of the GATT mode 4 legislation in the EU/India FTA negotiations. This is the real threat to hundreds of thousands of jobs that nobody is talking about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Mass immigration is fueled by Capitalist centric businesses looking to exploit cheap labour and poor working conditions for their own profit margins.

    The right-wing minded compain about immigration (and they are justified in doing so) but then go onto support the working practices of big business.

    You can't have your cake and eat it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    I taught English for 10 years up to 2007, including to asylum-seekers and refugees. Then the government cut the funding and these students couldn't afford to pay, and providers stopped classes. It's easy for Cameron to say "learn English", but he has to give people the chance to do so. Government policy is setting people up to fail. Give people access to classes and they will learn English.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Immigration should not be a taboo subject as Mr Cable appears to suggest. Why doesn't he wake up & smell the coffee. It is precisely because the politicians won't talk about it, let alone address it that is giving rise to a more far right stance by many ordinary people on immigration. Brushing it under the carpet will only fuel the growing clamour for a more "extreme" approach to immigration

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    The fact of the matter is this has to be tackled just like every other issue. Immigration has been side tracked for many years simply because it is deemed not to be politically correct. Ignoring it will not make it go away. The 'Open Door' policy adopted by New Labour is certainly not the way forward for this small island of ours and new laws have to be implemented

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    We often hear that Britain needs the "Brightest and Best"If we accept these admirable people from developing countries we are in effect stealing the seedcorn of their progress.We should encourage some of our best people to work abroard and help raise standards We should allow a number of able foreigners to work here for a limited period to improve their skills and then return home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    When I attempt to talk about the issue of immigration I am often branded racist and the debate is shut down. Usually, I therefore feel inhibited talking about immigration or, for example, how I feel multiculturalism is not working in my child's school. This results in the BNP being the only people whose voices are heard as they are less inhibited and louder than I am.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Isn't this just typical cheap politics from the Tories?

    They're losing in the polls. Messed up the Economy. Messed up the NHS. Messed up Foreign policy. Messed up on schools. Messed up on Universities.

    So lets pick on the immigrants!!

    I hope the Coalition breaks up!


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