Business Secretary Vince Cable yesterday accused the Conservatives of being in a “panic” over immigration and insisted a cap on European Union migrants was “not going to happen”.
Referring back to previous periods of heightened tensions –including Enoch Powell’s notorious “rivers of blood” speech – he warned politicians they had a responsibility to “give the facts”.
His comments come after Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg pledged to block any fresh attempts to curb EU immigration, insisting “this is where we draw the line”.
Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May have been pushing for limits on the EU freedom to travel and work amid concerns that thousands of Romanians and Bulgarians will flood the UK labour market when they are allowed in next year.
But Mr Cable said the Tories, who are under pressure from the right from Ukip, had their facts wrong. 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 when people are getting anxious is to try to reassure them and give the facts, not panic and resort to populist measures that do harm.”
He added: “The 75,000 cap is illegal and impossible to implement. I think what’s happening here, the Conservatives are in a panic because of Ukip reacting in the way they are.
“It’s not going to help them, I think, politically, but it’s doing a great deal of damage. The responsibility of politicians in this situation is to look at the facts. The simple point is there is very little evidence of ‘benefit tourism’ for people from eastern Europe.
“All the evidence suggests they put far more into the economy in terms of tax than they take out in benefits.”
Asked if there was a crisis within the coalition on the issue, he said: “There is quite a lot of tension around this issue, I don’t pretend that it isn’t. There are big differences over fairness, over tax and over immigration, and we will argue our corner.”
Mr Cable was also critical of a Home Office clampdown on student visas, warning it was harming business relations.
A Conservative spokesman said the party was not responding to the comments.
Britain’s social fabric ‘at risk’
Business Secretary Vince Cable has raised concerns further cuts will damage the “social fabric” of Britain.
The Lib Dem minister also launched a fresh attack on Chancellor George Osborne’s scheme to boost home ownership, warning it needed to be “looked at again”.
Pressed yesterday on the choice the next government would have to make between spending cuts and higher taxes, he said: “The crucial thing is it has got to be dealt with fairly. The people who are best able to pay should pay relatively more, and we have got to have a sensible balance between pressure on public spending, which is getting very severe, and some very good services are now being seriously affected.”
Asked if he was concerned about Britain’s “social fabric” if cuts continued, he replied: “I am concerned about the social fabric. We have got to get recovery going properly and sustained. Growth is happening and unemployment is falling, and we have got to make this sustainable. We don’t want to get into one of these boom-bust cycles with property.”