DAVID Cameron has vowed the Conservatives will not echo Ukip’s “tone” on immigration as the party battles eurosceptics in a second by-election sparked by a Tory defector.
Ukip is on course for a resounding victory in the Rochester and Strood vote next month, with a new poll putting the party 13 points ahead.
The Prime Minister has vowed to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU if the Conservatives win next May’s general election.
Pressed on concerns raised by British Asian voters about the tone of the immigration debate, Mr Cameron said Britain would continue to welcome “new arrivals” but needed fair controls.
Before setting off for a European Council summit in Brussels, where he was expected to raise the issue of immigration controls last night, Mr Cameron said: “I don’t think we should be adopting anybody else’s tone about things.
“I think what the British public want to see, and many British Asians that I meet want to see, is they want to see a continuation of this country being open, tolerant, compassionate and welcoming to new arrivals, which is absolutely what we are.
“They want us to continue to be a successful multi-racial country that celebrates the diversity that we have here in the United Kingdom, but at the same time they want to see fair and controlled immigration.
“I think people’s frustration, and I hear this a lot from British Asians, is that the system hasn’t been as controlled as they would like. That means controlling immigration from outside the European Union, making sure it’s fair, making sure there are clear rules and those rules are applied and, within the European Union, also making sure that we have a better grip of the situation there.”
Earlier this month, Douglas Carswell became Ukip’s first MP after defecting from the Conservatives and winning the ensuing by-election in Clacton.
In the Rochester and Strood by-election on 20 November, fellow Tory defector Mark Reckless is predicted to win 43 per cent of the votes, well ahead of the Conservatives on 30 per cent, a ComRes study found.
The poll put Labour on 21 per cent while the Liberal Democrats languished on 3 per cent, level-pegging with the Greens.
Around four in ten voters who backed the Conservatives at the last general election intend to vote Ukip in the poll, according to the research.
But the Lib Dems are also set to lose 39 per cent of backers to the anti-EU party on the day, while Labour is poised to haemorrhage 30 per cent of its previous supporters.
Among those who did not turn up to the ballot box in 2010, 57 per cent said they planned to support Mr Reckless.
The findings were accompanied by a note of caution for the Conservative Party in the way it is fighting the campaign to retain the Kent seat – 66 per cent of those polled said that by sending so many politicians to the constituency, the Tories were “coming across as desperate”.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Ed Miliband addressed the threat posed by Ukip by vowing yesterday that a Labour government would immediately bring in an immigration bill.
Outlining five proposed changes, he said all “public-facing” state employees would be required to have a basic standard of English.
Recruitment agencies would be banned from only hiring abroad, and firms employing staff from outside the EU would have to create an apprenticeship.
There would also be a specific law against bringing in foreign workers to undercut wages in the UK, and a reintroduction of “counting in and counting out” at borders.
Speaking to Labour supporters in Chatham, Mr Miliband said: “We will seek change in Europe for longer transitional controls when new countries join the EU.
“Stopping child benefit and child tax credits being paid to kids living abroad.
“Doubling the period before people would be entitled to benefits. And stronger rules to deal with foreign criminals.”
He added: “Nigel Farage wants to leave the EU, on which three million British jobs and thousands of businesses depend. Now David Cameron is also saying he is ready to leave the EU and have Britain turn its back on the rest of the world.”
Mr Miliband declared: “I will not be a prime minister that puts either those jobs and businesses or our national interest at risk.”