POLITICS

Vince Cable Targets Tory 'Immigration Scare Stories' In Coalition Row

06/03/2014 11:18 GMT | Updated 06/03/2014 12:59 GMT
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Vince Cable of the Liberal Democratic party leaves 10 Downing Street Wednesday, May, 12 2010. Britain's new Prime Minister David Cameron has appointed more of his new political partners to key Cabinet posts _ handing his coalition Liberal Democrat colleague Vince Cable a key business brief. Cable's appointment may spark nervousness in the financial sector. An ex-economist for Royal Dutch Shell, Cable is a fierce critic of banking practices and has demanded action to spur lending. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Vince Cable is to hit out at Tory ministers for feeding "scare stories" about immigration in the latest coalition spat.

The Lib Dem business secretary has raised tensions already by arguing that a big increase in net migration was "good" for the economy and now he will explain why he is "intensely relaxed" about mass migration to Britain.

"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," he will tell business leaders in a speech at Mansion House tonight.

"And, actually, if you survey the public on migrants who learn English, work hard and pay taxes, you find – as the think tank British Future did in exploring attitudes to Bulgarian and Romanian migrants – that 72% believe we should welcome them."

Making clear he is not "arguing for unrestricted migration", Cable will warn: "Bear down on immigrants, and you lose some of the most dynamic, innovative and imaginative workers in your economy."

Cable's comments have already drawn ire from the Tories, with new immigration minister James Brokenshire taking aim at the business secretary in arguing that the number of new arrivals from the EU was "just too high".

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Brokenshire will argue: "For too long, the benefits of immigration went to employers who wanted an easy supply of cheap labour; or to the wealthy metropolitan elite who wanted cheap tradesmen and services - but not to the ordinary, hardworking people of this country."

The immigration minister will insist that immigration "can also cause displacement in the labour market", despite a still secret government report suggesting that fewer British workers are pushed out of work than feared by new arrivals.

The latest figures for net annual migration, the difference between the number of people leaving and arriving in Britain, rose by 58,000 to 212,000 in the year to September 2013, although ministers remain keen to reduce the target below 100,000 by next year.

But in his speech tonight, Cable will lament that those who talk positively about immigrant workers and students "need a reinforced tin hat" and call for an end to "scare stories".

"I start from a fairly simple, basic economic proposition embedded in the EU Single Market: free trade – that is, the free movement of goods, services and labour – is good. This is particularly true about the free movement of people bringing skills in demand. The scientific community understands this well. The spread of ideas across borders needs people to be able to move smoothly. But they're not the only ones," he will tell his audience.

"Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has said: “In a knowledge economy the most important resources are the talented people we educated and attract to our country. Why do we kick out more than 40 per cent of maths and science graduate students …after educating them?” He could have been speaking about the UK as well.

"Somehow, many of the same people believe that migrants come here to sponge off our wonderfully generous welfare system or free ride on the NHS – presumably when they're not working. Once again, while there will always be stories to titillate the tabloids, facts are thin on the ground – though we do know that fewer than three per cent of migrants to the UK claim jobseeker’s allowance. There are a host of reasons to be a tourist to the UK, but its benefits system is not one of them. And we are tightening the rules."

"Of course there are public concerns which elected politicians have to treat with respect. I don't think anyone is arguing for unrestricted immigration – in particular of unskilled labour. There are abuses that have to be dealt with. And borders need to be properly policed. But we just have to stop treating people coming to work here as if they are a problem. We need to kill all the scare stories."

"Lower the temperature of the immigration debate, and we can create greater room to discuss the more significant, more challenging and more provocative issues around skills. That is where our long-term interests really lie."