Tories propose migration limit based on needs of economy
Thursday November 9, 2006
The Tory party will today break its silence on immigration by proposing a significant cut in the number of economic migrants to Britain.
The limit would only apply to people from outside the European Union and would be set annually by the Home Office.
The party under Michael Howard made immigration a central part of its 2005 election campaign. His successor, David Cameron, seeking to project a more compassionate image, has virtually taken the issue off the political agenda.
But today the shadow home secretary, David Davis, proposes limiting the number of economic migrants, with totals restricted according to the ability of public services and infrastructure to cope, as well as the likely effect on community cohesion and the environmental impact of a rapidly rising population. “While the precise number for any year cannot be predicted at this point, we would expect it to be significantly less than current levels,” says a pamphlet published today by Mr Davis and the shadow immigration minister, Damian Green.
With the Tory right pressing Mr Cameron not to throw away the party's strong immigration card in pursuit of a softened image, the leadership has faced a difficult balancing act. Mr Davis has kept the controversial idea of an annual limit, but dropped at least for the moment that the annual limit also apply to asylum seekers, a policy widely criticised at the time of the election as unlawful. Mr Davis acknowledges a limit on asylum seekers may be less relevant as the number of asylum claimants to the UK falls. He is promising a calmer tone in the debate, saying the vast majority of migrants have been models of good behaviour.
Currently, on gross figures, there are around 220,000 economic migrants from outside the EU to the UK annually. Within an annual limit applicants would also be filtered according to their skills. Unskilled workers would probably be denied entry on the basis that they do not bring fiscal benefit to the UK, and that Britain has access to a large unskilled labour pool via the EU. The Tories suggest anyone unlikely to earn 24,000 or more might be debarred.
Mr Davis suggests an application would be tested against whether the migrant would improve UK productivity, adding there was a danger large-scale immigration could mask the lack of indigenous skills in the workforce and leave an army of unemployed squeezed out of jobs.
The Conservatives will decide later if the policy could be based around the government's proposed points system. Mr Green summed up the stance as “Britain does benefit from some immigration, but not from all or any immigration”.
The home secretary, John Reid, has proposed a migration advisory council to assess the labour needs of the economy. The Conservatives will look separately at asylum seeker policy and restrictions on those with family links to the UK. Mr Davis has accepted there is no possibility of banning migrants from within the EU.