Tory minister’s immigration claims ‘pathetic’

Published on Thursday, 06 March 2014 13:38
Written by Daniel Mason

Conservative minister James Brokenshire has been accused of making a "feeble" and "pathetic" speech after he claimed only middle class people had benefited from immigration.

Speaking at the Demos thinktank in London, Brokenshire defended the Tory policy of cutting net migration to less than 100,000 a year by 2015 – a week after official figures showed it had actually risen to more than 200,000 in the 12 months to September 2013.

He said: "For too long, the benefits of immigration went to employers who wanted an easy supply of cheap labour, or to the wealthy metropolitan elite who wanted cheap tradesmen and services – but not to the ordinary hardworking people of this country."

Brokenshire was recently appointed immigration minister after his predecessor, Mark Harper, stood down when it emerged his cleaner did not have permission to work in the UK.

He added: "Uncontrolled mass immigration can force wages down and house prices up and put pressure on social cohesion and public services. And let me be clear – it can also cause displacement in the labour market."

It came as the government published a report showing that in reality there was "relatively little evidence" that immigration had any significant impact on unemployment among UK natives when the economy was strong.

Downing Street released the study after being accused of suppressing it because its findings did not suit the Conservative policy agenda – a claim it denied, insisting the report had simply not been ready. According to the analysis: "In line with some recent studies, there is evidence of some labour market displacement, particularly by non-EU migrants in recent years when the economy was in recession."

Brokenshire's remarks were dismissed by the Institute of Directors, whose director general, Simon Walker, said: "It is feeble and pathetic to hear yet more divisive language from politicians on immigration. The UK is an open, trading country that benefits from the skills and ideas of migrants.

"We will not become prosperous by closing our borders to talented individuals and entrepreneurs from across the world. This speech seems to be more about political positioning and less about what is good for the country."

The speech also appeared to widen the rift between the Conservatives and their coalition partners the Liberal Democrats on the topic. The deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, accused the Tories of being "preoccupied" with the issue, while the business secretary, Vince Cable, is expected to say he is "intensely relaxed" about immigration.

However, Labour claimed the coalition split was stage managed. Shadow immigration minister David Hanson said: "Both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats know their immigration policies are failing to convince anyone, so they are staging a row to blame each other and differentiate before the election.

"The public deserve better than this. We need a calm, rational and balanced debate on immigration with real answers to the problems we face, not a contrived political row that is more about internal coalition management than doing what is best for the country."

Meanwhile Ukip ridiculed Brokenshire's speech as "farcical". "There is a missing piece to this Tory puzzle," said the party's communities spokesman Suzanne Evans. "As we all know, you cannot remain in the EU and have control of your borders. You cannot exercise quality nor quantity control."

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