Vince Cable refuses to back down in immigration row
Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, has continued to defy David Cameron by speaking out against the Governments plans to introduce a cap on immigration.
By Rosa Prince, Political Correspondent, in Bangalore
Published: 11:22AM BST 28 Jul 2010
The highly-public spat continued to dominate a major trade delegation to India by the Prime Minister and a number of Cabinet ministers, including Mr Cable.
Refusing to be silenced, he confirmed that there was a debate, within the Cabinet about the cap, and insisted that as Business Secretary he felt that it was his job to make the case for free trade.
Calling for a light touch immigration policy, he failed to rule out the possibility that the cap could result in no overall reduction at all in the number of Indians moving to the United Kingdom.
He told journalists in Bangalore: “My job around the Cabinet table is to speak up for business and international engagement and that's what I've done.
“Business is clear we want Britain to be open for business. We want flexibility and we want these regulations when they come in to be administered with a light touch.
“That's a business perspective, it doesn't just apply to India, it applies more widely, that's entirely understandable.”
Mr Cable conceded that the Government needed to “balance two different things, adding: “One is the need, which we have agreed in the coalition agreement, to have an effective system of immigration control which provides reassurance to the British public.
“The other is to have flexibility so that business people can move around – inter-company transfers, people with specialist expertise, management and technical people. I don't see why this should be an insoluble problem.”
His stance is in contrast to Mr Camerons bid to introduce a blanket cap in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands.
Some senior Tories ministers, including David Willetts, the Universities Minister, and, reportedly, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, are said to back business leaders who say that banning their staff along with academics and professionals such as doctors, as well as low-skilled workers, would damage the economy.
Indian politicians and business leaders have also questioned how Mr Cameron can make the case for increased trade, while blocking businesses from sending staff to work in the UK.
Amid fears that the row could overshadow the entire visit, the Prime Minister attempted to make light of the division, saying that public debate was preferable to rows between cliques in private.
He told BBC Radio 4s Today Programme: This Government is taking Government off the sofa and putting it round the Cabinet table, and it is perfectly legitimate for the Business Secretary to argue for the free movement of markets.
Mr Cable also confirmed that he remained committed to the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition agreement, which included plans to introduce a temporary immigration cap of 24,100 which will run until 2011, followed by a permanent limit, the terms of which would be decided by a consultation.
Mr Cameron favours a strict blanket ban, while Mr Cable wants wriggle room to allow highly skilled professionals to enter the UK.
He defended his decision to make the case in public, saying: There clearly is a debate taking place.
“It's a grown-up debate about how these rules should be administered and I have a perspective, which I bring to India as the Business Secretary and President of the Board of Trade, wanting to encourage trade and inward investment.
“For that reason I am making very clear the perspective I would like to bring to bear on this
“I have made it very clear my job around the Cabinet table is to make the case for business.
Asked whether there would be a reduction in the number of Indians coming to Britain following the cap, he said: “I can't give a concrete answer to that because it's in a consultative stage.
Mr Cameron suggested that India and business leaders with concerns should contribute to the on-going consultation, which runs until September.
But he appeared to be standing firm over the issue of highly skilled workers, suggesting that the consultation would relate only to the number of immigrants allowed under the cap, not their professional status.
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