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 93.

    21. Eamon Sloan
    Because there are no British ethnics are there? have a think first.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    'Economically damaging' what ROT. 30% of the working age population of this country don't work, there is NO shortage of people to be nurses etc etc all we need to do is stop pretending the stupid tax and benefits mess encourages work, realise it doesn't, and then adopt a flat rate benefit for all and a flat rate tax on all income. The whole problem would be solved. We have TOO MANY PEOPLE HERE.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    shock horror - the tories trying to appeal to their core voters by appearing 'tough' on immigration and the Lib-Dems trying to appeal to theirs by being the opposite...anyone would think that the local elections were coming up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Cameron is correct. Trouble is this is a taboo subject and not many politicians want to talk about it and even if they do they start to go down the race line. It is a problem and until there is a grown up discussion about it there will be tensions. We will always need skilled workers but not because they are cheap but because the need is there! Also we need businesses to train British workers too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    This isn't about Immigration - its actually about being part of the EU and not able to have borders, and a British legal system which cannot exercise its own laws and a Border control service that must be on permanent tea break. Oh and free lawyers to those being evicted, and an appeals systems that's too liberal.

    That's what Cameron should address.

    And Cameron is doing nowt about that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    But a cap is needed, skilled and professionals should be welcomed - unskilled work can and should be done by the millions of British jobless. a change in the attitudes toward the bottom line and eradicating the work shy attitudes has to start somewhere. this is just another in a long line of stopping (reducing) the free rides. Frankly, i supoprt this

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Ease or otherwise of immigration is not dictated by the imperatives of a market economy. There are far greater considerations inter alia demographics, culture, housing.
    But how is it that with 2 million out of work, Cable makes a business case for immigration? The implications about the educational, skills and cultural level of our own citizens is what is most alarming.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    It is a fact this is an issue that worries many UK voters. For too long we have had politicans like Cable who support immigration but don't deal with its realities as they retreat to the utopia of their rose covered rural cottages. The facts show that immigration has exploded under Labour, we are in crisis, and most people can't see the benefits. Debate is needed not just status quo.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    capitalism is the problem not immigration. the govt has allowed the jobs market, welfare and housing to SHRINK in real terms forcing poor immigrants and british people to compete over diminishing resources, whilst rich people are UNAFFECTED. businesses have driven wages down by employing cheap labour and laid off existing ones. if the govt regulated business and taxed the rich we wouldn't be here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    This childish bickering benefits nobody, casting both Cameron and Cable in a bad light and making the nation look foolish to have such self-serving mediocre people in government. Where is civilised debate, well-reasoned argument in favour of a point of view, and considered criticism against it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    It's a bit rich having Ed Miliband telling the Govt to get a grip on immigration. Especially when you consider that Labour allowed 2.2 million in during its time in office that we know about, let alone the vast numbers of illegals that it did nothing about for 13 years!

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    A start at least, and hopefully when at last immigration can be debated sensibly without those on the left, unable to debate and only shout accusing those concerned of racism. Now we need to stop dumbing down education so that "those in need of benefit" and have never worked can be prepared for jobs and which will give our children a good a better start in life. Life on Benefits dont do this!

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    It is obvious that the overwhelming majority of the people want a halt to Third World immigration. The percentage is probably 75%.

    The one drawback is not Cameron's speech. It is that many people believe he won't do what he says.

    Vince Cable sounds like an old fart, and is irrelevant

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    44. esoltutor
    But that's the problem - why have we got to pay for it? If they want to learn English, they can learn privately. The point being they shouldnt be here on benefits (ie with no job) in the first place

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    This is all huff and puff for electoral reasons, and nothing else. The Lib Dems are trying to regain social democtrat votes in the May elections by pretending to fall out with the Tories. Once the elections are over they'll back at their masters' feet again. What a disingenuous bunch they are!

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    This issue has so much emotional and political baggage, that it's impossible to debate rationally. My view is that the UK (especially England) is already unpleasantly overcrowded and it's natural resources stretched to breaking point. It would be so much better if we had a policy on an ecologically sustainable 'target population' as a precursor to any discussion of contributory factors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    This country is roughly the 17th most populous in an over populated world, and has very dense population areas. If we do not stabilise and then reverse the size of our population, when we face energy shortages and a looming food shortage (not least because of the coming phosphate shortage), then we are doing exactly that which we are trying to stop in developing countries, over populating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Why do people expect the Coalition to be a partnership of equals? Given that the Tories have 307 seats to the LibDems' 57 is it not to be expected that Coalition policies will have a predominantly Tory flavour? Until the left have an alternative of their own, how can they kick the Coalition for the way they're trying to fix the problems we have. If you don't like coalitions it's simple: vote No2AV

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    In a globalised economy, this is protectionism. Would Cameron be sayin te same thing about foreign capital flowing into London? The basis of modern economies is the free movement of labour.
    In terms of numbers, using absolute numbers - rather than rates - paints a scary picture, and is designed to awaken opinion (at least).
    He's posturing and electioneering.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    When will the politicians realise this country of ours is FULL UP ? There is no 'good' immigration now & we need to stop it from within & without the E.U.as a matter of national emergency. Blair & Brown committed treason against us with their open door policy.


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