David Cameron has shot down suggestions by one of his most loyal backbench MPs that he should consider offering illegal immigrants amnesty in order to win over ethnic minority voters.
Nadhim Zahawi, who is tipped for promotion to ministerial office in the next reshuffle, said not only would amnesty be politically advantageous for for the Conservative Party - but would it boost the economy.
"Economically, a one-off amnesty would make sense," he said. "There are an estimated 570,000 illegal immigrants in the UK; this vast hidden economy cheats the Treasury out of billions while undercutting the pay and conditions of low-income workers. At a time of austerity, moving these people into the legitimate economy has obvious attractions."
At the 2010 general election the Conservatives only won 16% of the ethnic minority vote. Zahawi, the MP for Stratford-on-Avon MP and a co-founder of the polling company YouGov, said "unless we act now this electoral penalty will only get worse."
Zahawi was writing in an article for a new Tory campaign group provisionally named 'Right Revival' which is focused on expanding the party's base of support.
"Ethnic minorities make up eight per cent of the electorate, a figure which is on an upward trend and predicted to grow to at least 20 per cent by 2051," he said.
"More importantly, we cannot claim to be the Conservative and Unionist Party if large numbers of non-white Britons continue to believe we aren’t capable of representing them."
Zahawi's idea puts him at odds with David Cameron, who is strongly opposed. It would also completely undermine the prime minister's hope of getting immigration down to the "tens of thousands".
Speaking at a European Union press conference on Friday, Cameron said while Zahawi was a "very bright MP" he would not be adopting the proposal.
Asked if an amnesty would be included in the 2015 party manifesto, he said: "The short answer is no. I don't agree, it's not a good idea. It's not one we are going to implement. It would send a terrible signal as Britain as a soft touch."
Cameron added: "I'm all for MPs thinking independently but this is not an idea that is a good idea."
Giving an amnesty to illegal immigrants is also unlikely to go down well with Conservative MPs - especially those who wary of the surge in support for the anti-immigration Ukip.
It was also recently abandoned by Nick Clegg, despite being one of the key pledges in the Lib Dem's 2010 election manifesto.
The Labour Party is also sceptical, a source said: "This government is failing on illegal immigration. People who break the rules should be followed up, instead this government is ignoring them while illegal immigration becomes a growing problem. They have already written off thousands of lost asylum seekers. The government needs to focus its efforts on this, not amnesties."
However it does have one high-profile Tory backer - Boris Johnson.
Sarah Mulley, the associate director for migration and communities at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), said in principle the idea of an amnesty was probably the right policy solution - but warned it would not help the Tories politically.
"Faced with illegal immigrants there are three options; one is to ignore it, the current position, two is to try and deport a few hundred thousands people which is very expensive and not possible and three is to offer some kind of route for people to regularise their status," she told The Huffington Post UK.
But she said Zahawi's plan was "a bit simplistic" as while there should be a route to citizenship for illegal immigrants there would have to be "heavy conditionality" that would exclude people who had set out to trick the system.
On Thursday the United States Senate passed a politically fraught immigration reform Bill that would give a path to citizenship to some estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. Among the 14 Republican senators who votes for the Bill was Florida's Marco Rubio - a leading contender to be the Republican nominee for president in 2016.
The Republican Party, much like the Conservatives, have a problem winning ethnic minority votes. In 2012, 71% percent of Hispanic voters picked president Obama - with just 29% voting for Mitt Romney.
However Mulley expressed doubts that the Tories would reap the same rewards from ethnic minorities that the Republicans may by softening their attitude towards illegal immigration.
Mulley explained that while the large hispanic minority population in the US identifies with illegal immigrants from Mexico - there was a different dynamic in the UK. "The politics of this are very different in the UK than in the US, " she said.
"In the UK there are far fewer ethnic minority voters and they have much less in common with the irregular migrant population - they are less well connected.
"In the UK you have much more diverse minority population and much more diverse irregular immigrant population, this is not political totem it is in the States."
She added: "Minority voters have similar views on immigration as white-British voters. This is politically hugely unpopular in the UK and in the US that is not the case where the problem is on such a scale that the public has come round to the idea that something has to be done."
And Mulley suggested Zahawi would do better to focus on other avenues, such as tempering the language used by Conservative politicians when it came to immigrant populations - as well as challenging the idea of immigrant bonds.
Theresa May has floated the idea of charging vistors from Asia and Africa £3,000 to enter the country - a sum they would back if they left the country before their visa ran out. The plan, which is due to begin pilot schemes soon, has been condemned for targeting countries such as India but not predominantly white countries such as Australia or Canada.Suggest a correction