Business Secretary Vince Cable faced a Conservative backlash yesterday after he compared party members to Enoch Powell and his controversial “rivers of blood” speech.
Conservative MPs criticised the Liberal Democrat minister for being out of touch, with one suggesting he should resign from government, while another claimed he was duplicitous.
Amber Valley MP Nigel Mills criticised Mr Cable for “effectively” comparing his coalition partners to the Tory right-winger and his controversial speech on immigration.
Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, Mr Mills, a member of the immigration bill committee, said: “This is unacceptable.” He said Mr Cable’s comments had made it “very hard to sit around the Cabinet table”.
Asked whether he thought Mr Cable should be made to leave the Cabinet, Mr Mills said: “That’s a decision above my pay grade, but it’s a particularly strange way to work with partners. I think Mr Cable has always had a rather creative interpretation of what collective responsibility ought to look like.
“These comments – coming on the back of, I would say, some completely sensible policy announcements by the Prime Minister to restrict welfare to people who are newly arrived here – I mean, it just looks completely out of touch with the sentiments of most British people.”
On Twitter, Conservative backbencher Philip Davies wrote: “Cable is appalled by his Govt but he is v happy to keep taking his fat cabinet salary. I have nothing but contempt for him and his duplicity.”
He added: “If he feels so strongly, he should do the decent thing and resign.”
Mr Cable incensed the Conservatives by suggesting the party’s immigration rhetoric was based on a culture of panic and populism.
Speaking on Sunday, he said: “There is a bigger picture here. We periodically get these immigration panics in the UK.
“I remember going back to Enoch Powell and ‘rivers of blood’ and all that. If you go back a century, it was panics over Jewish immigrants coming from eastern Europe.
“The responsibility of politicians in this situation when people are getting anxious is to try to reassure them and give the facts, not panic and populist measures that do harm.”
This is not the first time Mr Cable has voiced concern over the Conservatives’ immigration policy.
In April 2011, distancing himself from their plans to reduce net migration to tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands, Mr Cable said it was “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 [David Cameron] and I are both strongly opposed.”
Last night Conservative chairman Grant Shapps said: “Vince Cable’s a bit like an old uncle at Christmas – slightly rude, does not always make sense – but he is part of the extended family so you live with it.”
Labour immigration spokesman David Hanson said: “The government are hopelessly split and increasingly acrimonious.
“Rather than come up with practical measures in a calm and measured way, they have descended into name-calling and panic. Once again, the rhetoric fails to match the reality with this government on immigration.”
Practical help needed, not political gestures, says think-tank report
The government should be preparing for the impact Bulgarian and Romanian migrants will have on schools and housing instead of alarming the public and announcing “symbolic gestures”, a report said.
The UK will be able to absorb the expected influx of migrants next year if ministers adopt contingency measures to deal with pressures arising in local areas, the centre-left think-tank Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said.
EU restrictions on movement of Bulgarians and Romanians will be lifted on 1 January and plans to restrict migrants’ rights to benefits are being rushed through Parliament, with immigrants from all EU states having to wait three months before being able to apply for jobseeker’s allowance and other out-of-work benefits.
The IPPR suggested helping local authorities deal with a possible increase in demand on school, housing stock and policing would be more helpful than last-minute “gestures”.
Its report said there is no way to accurately estimate how many Romanian or Bulgarian workers might come to the UK next year.
Immigration cap would hurt UK economy
Britain’s economy will pay a heavy price if the Conservatives meet their target of getting annual net immigration below 100,000, a report has warned.
Keeping immigration numbers in five figures would slash 11 per cent off UK GDP by the year 2060, said the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (Niesr) – the equivalent of almost £165 billion at today’s prices, or about £2,600 for every person in the country.
The national finances would be hit because immigrants tend to be younger than the national average and are able to fill gaps in the labour force left by Britain’s ageing population, boosting productivity and tax revenues, while consuming less than the average Briton in public services like healthcare, welfare and education.
Niesr calculated that bringing annual net migration just below 100,000 – rather than the 200,000 estimate used by the Office for National Statistics in its population forecasts – would increase government spending as a share of GDP by 1.4 percentage points by 2060 and require an increase of 2.2 percentage points in income tax rates.