Cameron on immigration: what they’re saying
Politicians and commentators weigh up David Cameron’s speech in which he promised to reduce immigration
David Cameron has re-entered the immigration debate in a speech aimed at rousing the Conservative Party before local elections which are widely expected to deliver a damning verdict on the coalition government's programme of cuts to public services.
In a speech to Conservative party activists in Hampshire, the prime minister said that immigration was too high under the previous Labour government and promised to reduce it from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands.
He claimed that immigration on this scale has "created a kind of discomfort and disjointedness in some neighbourhoods", because newcomers have not been willing to integrate or learn English.
Cameron also attempted to link the issue of immigration to welfare dependency, saying, "migrants are filling gaps in the labour market left wide open by a welfare system that for years has paid British people not to work".
The prime minister reaffirmed the Conservatives' commitment to reducing the number of skilled workers coming from outside the European Union to 27,000 this year in the face of criticism from the City and scientists, who fear the policy will harm UK competitiveness.
Inevitably, Cameron's speech on immigration has caused an uproar - particularly among his Liberal Democrat coalition partners...
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:
Vince Cable, business secretary: "The reference to the tens of thousands of immigrants rather than hundreds of thousands is not part of the coalition agreement, it is Tory party policy only. I do understand there is an election coming but talk of mass immigration risks inflaming the extremism to which he and I are both strongly opposed."
Leader, Daily Mail: "[Cameron's] plan is both sensible and in keeping with the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the public. Indeed, had Mr Cameron been more vocal on this crucial issue last year, the Tories may have won the general election outright!"
Anthony Painter, LabourList: "David Cameron is in trouble. And when he's in trouble, he panics and presses the race, identity, welfare and immigration buttons."
Simon Darby, BNP spokesman: "It's cynical opportunism, isn't it? It's almost like a ceremonial adoption of our policy about two weeks before any major vote. In other words, [Cameron] knows what ordinary British people are thinking. He completely ignores that until two weeks before a major poll and then all of a sudden starts pressing a few buttons to try and make people believe he's actually doing something about immigration. It's a farce, it's a con, and if we had copyright on our manifesto we'd have our lawyers round his office within hours."
Sir Andrew Green, chair of MigrationWatch: "[The speech is] music in my ears and it's music I think in the ears of most people in this country... I think the importance of this speech is that [Cameron has] again nailed his colours to the mast - he has said he understands what the public feel; he's going to have a serious shot at dealing with it."
Nigel Farage, UK Independence Party leader: "Sadly there isn't much he can do about it because the elephant in the room is the European Union and we have a total open border with all of them... We cannot have our own immigration policy and be part of the European Union."
Peter Hoskin, the Spectator: "There is, really, little that is new in David Cameron's speech on immigration today... So if he's not saying anything particularly groundbreaking, what is he saying? With the local elections only three weeks away - and on the back of the Lib Dems' newfound assertiveness - it's hard not to see this as an outreach exercise. This is one for core Tory voters, or perhaps those considering voting Ukip or worse."
Ruth Dudley Edwards, Daily Telegraph: "Joe Public is not a racist, but he is fed up being taken for a mug. With his speeches on the evils of multiculturalism and mass immigration, David Cameron is at last telling those on whom the British way of life depends that their views are worthy of respect"
Mehdi Hasan, the New Statesman: "Is this a tactic to divert attention from the coalition's blunders on NHS reform and the nurses' attack on the hapless Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley? Did the Prime Minister's earlier denunciation of Oxford University's manifest failure to admit black students provide him with the requisite 'cover' to take a pot shot at immigrants? Is his (renewed) focus on forced marriages and English lessons a legitimate and proportionate intervention in a vital area of public policy or a crude dog-whistle to the Tory right and BNP-type voters?"
Keith Vaz, Labour chairman of the home affairs committee: "I think that those who have come to this country, those first generation immigrants do want to integrate and, if you look at the major towns and cities in this country, there is a desire for people to be involved. I think we've got a better record of toleration and integration than any country in Europe ... The large number of eastern Europeans that came to Britain since the enlargement of the EU have actually integrated quite well, I think." ·
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