POLITICS
28/07/2013 09:04 BST | Updated 28/07/2013 09:30 BST

Vince Cable: Immigration Crackdown And #RacistVan Is 'Stupid And Offensive'

Vince Cable on the Andrew Marr show
PA
Vince Cable on the Andrew Marr show

Vince Cable has attacked his Tory colleagues for launching a "stupid and offensive" crackdown on illegal immigrants, via the so-called 'racist van' and accused them of being obsessed with migration figures.

Lib Dems had not been consulted, the Business Secretary said, adding that Immigration Minister Mark Harper's decision to send vans bearing the message "go home, or you'll be picked up and deported" round London was designed to create fear among the public.

He rubbished "misleading" targets to reduce net migration and insisted Britain did not have a vast problem with illegal immigrants.

Cable told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show the Liberal Democrats had not been consulted about the van campaign.

"It was stupid and offensive. I think it is very unlikely it will continue."

He questioned whether illegal immigrants would have enough of a "sophisticated grasp of English" to be able to read the posters on the vans at a distance.

"I think it is offensive. It is designed, apparently, to sort of create a sense of fear (in the) British population that we have a vast problem with illegal immigration.

"We have a problem but it's not a vast one. It's got to be dealt with in a measured way dealing with the underlying causes."

Twitter campaigners have been urging followers to deluge the text and phone number printed on the van with calls, asking for lifts "home", using the hashtag #RacistVan.

Asked about the damning criticism about the accuracy of migration figures by the Public Administration Select Committee today, Cable said: "We are not a totalitarian state. We don't count every single person but actually it's quite difficult being an illegal immigrant in Britain.

"You can't work, certainly legally, you can't have access to benefits. So, the idea that there's some vast, hidden army of people, is almost certainly completely wrong.

"The argument about those numbers, which was raised this morning by a select committee, it only really matters if you are pursuing some target. There's this sort of net immigration figure, which the Conservatives are very preoccupied by.

"It's not a government objective, make it absolutely clear.

"This idea that you are pursuing a net immigration figure is very misleading because, amongst other things, the largest number of people counted as immigrants are overseas students, who are not immigrants, they are visitors but under the United Nations classification they are regarded as immigrants, but they are good for the country.

"So obsessing about this net immigration number is not helpful."