Ministers argue over immigration

Mid Devon Star: Business Secretary Vince Cable was set to spell out the benefits of immigration in a speech in London Business Secretary Vince Cable was set to spell out the benefits of immigration in a speech in London

An extraordinary row has erupted within the coalition over immigration policy, with a senior Tory minister accusing Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable of being "simply incorrect" on the issue.

The spat between Immigration Minister James Brokenshire and Mr Cable came as an official Government analysis concluded there was "relatively little evidence" that migrant workers had replaced Britons in jobs during the boom years.

But Mr Brokenshire accused the Business Secretary of being "condescending" and asserting "falsehoods" about the impact of immigration.

He used his first speech as Immigration Minister to deliver a rebuke to Mr Cable, who had claimed rising immigration was a sign of "good news" for Britain.

The Tories have set a goal of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands by the end of the Parliament - a target which looks set to be missed after the most recent figures surged year-on-year by more than a third to 212,000 in the 12 months to September 2013.

In a speech to the Demos think-tank Mr Brokenshire said: "I want to put a few things straight, because I know Vince Cable has made a number of statements about immigration in the last week and to be frank a lot of them are simply incorrect.

"First he said rising immigration is 'good new's. Well I've news for him. Mass immigration puts pressure on social cohesion, on public services and infrastructure and - yes - it can force down wages and displace local people from the job market.

"The winners are the haves like Vince, but the people who lose out are from working class families, they're ethnic minorities and recent immigrants themselves.

"Try telling them that rising immigration is good news."

He added that "rather condescendingly" Mr Cable had said politicians should stick to the facts when discussing immigration.

"I suggest to Mr Cable that he might reflect on his comments and start doing this himself," Mr Brokenshire said.

The Government had been accused of suppressing the civil service analysis of immigration evidence, amid claims it would show that ministerial assertions about the effect on British jobs had been overstated.

The review, by officials from the Home Office and Mr Cable's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, said there was evidence of "some labour market displacement" during the recession

But it also found there was little evidence of an impact from European Union migration on the employment of British workers, although it was a "relatively recent phenomenon" and "this does not imply that impacts do not occur in some circumstances".

Ministers have repeatedly cited research by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published in 2012 and covering the period from 1995 to 2010 that found 23 British workers were left unemployed for every 100 new arrivals from outside the EU.

But the new analysis stated that " when data from part of the period of economic downturn (2009 and 2010) were omitted, the impact of non-EU migration was not found to be statistically significant".

It added that the MAC w as careful to highlight a "tentative association" identified in the data rather than a "causal interpretation" and "t his should be emphasised in any interpretation of this report's results".

Mr Brokenshire said the report did not contradict the MAC findings and "it concludes that displacement can occur - most noticeably when volumes are highest and the economy is struggling".

He defended the target of reducing net migration below 100,000 and said Mr Cable was advocating an "out of control immigration system".

Mr Brokenshire said: "Properly controlled, immigration contributes richly to our country, bringing in talent and much needed skills and encouraging greater competition in our economy.

"But we also know that when immigration is not properly controlled it can cause unacceptable strains on our towns and cities. It puts pressure on public services such as education, transport and the NHS."

He hinted that rules to clamp down on abuse of student visas could be tightened.

Colleges and universities currently lose their right to sponsor overseas students if one in five of the people they offer places to are refused by the Home Office because they cannot demonstrate they are genuine students.

"I think that the 20% refusal rate figure might be too generous and we may need to look again," he said.

Mr Brokenshire's speech was criticised by the Institute of Directors, whose director general Simon Walker said: "It is feeble and pathetic to hear yet more divisive language from politicians on immigration.

"The UK is an open, trading country that benefits from the skills and ideas of migrants. We will not become more prosperous by closing our borders to talented individuals and entrepreneurs from across the world. This speech seems to be more about political positioning and less about what is good for the country."

Mr Cable will again highlight the benefits of immigration in a speech at the Mansion House and stress the need to "kill all the scare stories" on the issue.

In a nod to former Labour minister Peter Mandelson, Mr Cable is tonight expected to say: "I am intensely relaxed about people coming to work and study here and bringing necessary skills to Britain - provided that they pay their taxes and pay their way."

Lord Mandelson once famously said he was "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they paid their taxes".

Mr Cable will state that nine out of 10 new jobs went to British workers last year despite net immigration rising significantly, pouring cold water on concerns that foreigners who come to the UK take work from Britons.

He will also attack views that migrants come to Britain to "sponge off our wonderfully generous welfare system or free ride on the NHS", adding that "facts are thin on the ground".

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