09/03/2014 09:06 GMT | Updated 09/05/2014 06:59 BST

The Government's Priorities on Immigration Are Wrong

Last week's u-turn by the government has seen them release a report on immigration that the day before Downing Street said "wasn't ready". It's a well worn cliché that a week is a long time in politics, but in immigration clearly just one day can change things completely.

I called for the government to release the report because it's important the British people know the facts. So I did welcome the sudden change. Britain has benefited over many centuries from the amazing contributions of immigrants welcomed to our shores to build our biggest companies, sustain our NHS and win us Nobel prizes. And immigration will be even more important in future in a globalised economy.

But it is because immigration is so important that it needs to be controlled and the impact of immigration needs to be fair for all.

In contrast the government's priorities on immigration are wrong. On the one hand, sending offensive 'go home ad vans' round ethnically diverse areas, whilst on the other, failing to take the basic steps necessary to deport foreign criminals; prioritising a net migration target which includes British people and claiming the credit when it fell, but blaming everyone but themselves when it started to rise again; giving speech after speech on the need to ensure Britain isn't seen as a soft touch, but opposing Labour's plans to end the rampant undercutting and exploitation that is still far too common in parts of our labour market. And telling India and other economic powerhouses that the UK was open to foreign students, only to see Indian student numbers plummet because of their rhetoric.

Part of the problem is their commitment to a net migration target which incentivises fewer British people coming home or fewer international students at our best universities. This means the government is unable to admit that there are different kinds of immigration: immigration that works for Britain and immigration that doesn't. For example, in his first speech, the new Immigration Minister James Brokenshire didn't seem to differentiate between a highly-skilled engineer coming to work in the UK, or postgraduate students carrying out research and low skilled migration.

We do need to do more to reduce illegal immigration and reduce our dependence on low skilled migrant labour from Europe, but it makes no sense to be targeting foreign university students or highly skilled entrepreneurs for reductions in numbers.

And it's important to remember that the government doesn't simply mean the Conservative party - both Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have spent the last few days trying to distance themselves from their coalition colleagues and criticise the government's net migration target and other immigration policies. But this is a phony war. This public protesting and staged row between government ministers each blaming the other for things that are going wrong on immigration shouldn't fool anyone - the Lib Dems are just as culpable for the government's approach to immigration, and have just as few answers about how to make immigration work for Britain as their Conservative colleagues.

Because immigration does need to be made to work for Britain. Immigration can and has brought benefits to the UK. Our businesses can do better when they can recruit people with the skills and attitude we need to be a successful and growing economy, our universities can succeed when they can recruit the brightest and best students from across the world and culturally our country is richer thanks to the UK's connections to the wider world. But its impact must be fair and it must be controlled.

The government's hostile rhetoric across the board on immigration ignores these important contributions, and as the Institute of Directors said in response to James Brokenshire's first speech on immigration, is "more about political positioning and less about what is good for the country".

We need a calmer approach to policy making in immigration, but fairness must be at the heart of it. That's why for over a year Labour has been calling on minister's to take action to stop exploitation and undercutting in our labour markets and to urgently act to stop the negative impacts of immigration. Ed Milliband has spoken about the potential for immigration to push wages down in some areas while the Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has called for government action to stop exploitation of legal and illegal workers.

We have been calling for the last year for, and remain committed to, seeing real action on enforcing the minimum wage, tackling overcrowded migrant housing, extending the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to other sectors where there is evidence of exploitation and stopping recruitment agencies discriminating against UK workers by only hiring from overseas. All these things could immediately make a big difference towards limiting the negative effects of immigration, but the government so far have refused to act.

We also need to see greater action from ministers to remove people who are here illegally. Even by their own standards the government are failing on this meaning that people have no confidence that our immigration system is fair or effective in stopping people who shouldn't be here. If we are to make immigration work for Britain's economy it's vital that minister's get a grip and stop people who are here illegally, have overstayed on their visa or have committed crimes and should be removed. It isn't acceptable that the number of foreign criminals being removed has fallen by 13.5% under this government and are removing 10% fewer people who are here illegally and have had asylum applications turned down.

Immigration will be important to Britain's future, but its impact must be fair and it must be controlled. We don't need more discredited rhetoric from the government, but real action to stop exploitation in labour markets and to make immigration work in Britain's interests.