Conservative Immigration Cap Under Threat From Liberal Democrats

Conservative immigration cap under threat from Liberal Democrats

Fears that the Coalition will water down Tory commitments for an immigration cap have been raised after David Cameron was urged by Vince Cable to scrap the pledge in order to boost Britains economic attractiveness.

By Rosa Prince in Bangalore and Andrew Porter
Published: 4:50PM BST 27 Jul 2010

The row threatened to overshadow the Prime Ministers trip to India accompanied by a large trade delegation to try and foster closer links with the economic powerhouse.

Mr Cable, the Business Secretary, who is travelling with Mr Cameron warned that the trade mission would be futile unless the Government scrapped the new cap on immigration.

The Confederation of Indian Business and some British financial leaders have expressed concern that the Governments proposed annual limit on immigration from outside the European Union would prevent entrepreneurs from coming to this country.

While the cap was a flagship Conservative policy during the general election, it was opposed by the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Cable briefed Hindu Business Line that he would fight to see the cap scrapped altogether, saying that he wanted the most liberal an immigration policy as its possible to have.

He said: Its no great secret that in my department and me personally, we want to see an open economy, and as liberal an immigration policy as its possible to have.

We are arguing, within Government, about how we create the most flexible regime we can possibly have, but in a way that reassures the British public.

In an interview, Mr Cable added: Certainly in terms of work permits for management and technical staff who are needed in the UK we want the system to operate flexibly.

I want to reassure the Indians that we are going to deal with this liberally.

That apparent attempt to water down the Tory-led plans for a cap will upset many Conservatives. The immigration issue was among the key topics MPs encountered during the election and the Tory policy undoubtedly helped Mr Cameron in his campaign.

Mr Cable has said that he is gloomy about the job he is having to do in the Coalition and Lib Dem MPs are anxious that the partys poll ratings have slumped alarmingly since they went into alliance with the Conservatives.

Supporters are demanding that more Lib Dem policies are adopted by the Coalition as a price of their continued support.

But any sign that he is being swayed by his Lib Dem Cabinet colleague Mr Cable, will be seized on by already disgruntled Tory backbenchers.

Mr Camerons aides confirmed that the Prime Minister would discuss the matter when he meets Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday, during talks which will also see him set out plans to take the relationship between the two countries to the next level, and allow Britain to tap into Indias dynamic, fast-growing economy.

He will discuss how the new cap could be introduced in a way which would not harm trade.

The Government has already introduced a temporary limit of 24,100 until April 2011, with ministers saying they want the eventual, permanent annual figure to be in the tens rather than the hundreds of thousands.

A Downing Street spokesman said that Mr Cable was not disputing that there would be a cap on immigration.

He added that the Business Secretary and Mr Cameron would both be discussing with the Indian government how the limit could be introduced without damaging enterprise.


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