Vince Cable implicated in row over 'withheld' migration report

Cameron accused of two cover-ups at once – over immigration impact report and No 10 aide's arrest

Column LAST UPDATED AT 09:49 ON Wed 5 Mar 2014

DOWNING STREET stands accused today of two cover-ups which strike at the heart of David Cameron's boast on coming to office that he planned to run "one of the most transparent governments in the world".

BBC Newsnight reported last night that a civil service report showing that immigration has far less impact on UK unemployment than previously thought has been buried because it is too embarrassing for Home Secretary Theresa May, who has sought to argue that it does have a harmful effect on jobs. 

Cameron is also accused of a cover-up over the arrest by the National Crime Agency of his policy adviser Patrick Rock over child pornography allegations. Rock was allowed to resign quietly three weeks ago but his departure was only confirmed on Monday by Number Ten after questions were asked by the Daily Mail, which today blasts Cameron on its front page for a cover-up.

Newsnight's central claim is that the immigration report has been withheld by Downing Street because it undermines May’s claim that "displacement" – the number of British workers who are without jobs as a direct consequence of immigration – is well below the figure used by May and other ministers of 23 unemployed for every 100 additional immigrants.

Though it is not known what "displacement" figure the immigration review has come up with, it is, according to the BBC, much less "pessimistic" than the 23-for-100 figure.

The withheld report is said to have sparked infighting between government departments. Home Office officials apparently protested that the new research reflected an "institutional bias" in favour of migration among officials at the Treasury, Foreign Office and Business department, the latter run by the Lib Dems' Vince Cable, who is famously pro-immigration. 

According to internal emails seen by Newsnight, both the Treasury and Business have attacked the Home Office, saying previous research on "displacement" cited by Mrs May was not considered sufficiently "robust".

Downing Street denies the new report has been quashed and says it will be published when it is "finished". Norman Smith, the BBC’s chief political correspondent, says that could be “within days”. Critics will be watching closely to see if it is doctored.

This morning, the BBC's political editor, Nick Robinson, pointed the finger at the likely source of Newsnight's story - Vince Cable, who only last week infuriated Tories last week by saying a 40 per cent rise in net immigration was “good news” because it boosted the British economy.

Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, will stand by Cable today in a speech attacking Ukip leader Nigel Farage over immigration and the EU. It is part of Clegg's new branding campaign aimed at making himself the only political leader in the run-up to May's European elections who is prepared to speak up for Britain's continued membership of the EU.

Robinson said on Radio 4's Today programme: “What is going on is a serious effort by economists to get to the bottom of a difficult thing to measure and a slightly less serious effort by politicians to have a row within the coalition about who’s right about the impact of immigration..."

He said the target to cut net immigration was not an agreed coalition approach; it is a "Conservative-only objective". When Cable saw a report that supported his view, he wanted it made public, and May wanted to do more work on it.

The allegations of a second cover-up over Patrick Rock could prove more damaging for Cameron, because it has upset the Conservatives' supporters at the Daily Mail, which has been campaigning hard in recent months for greater efforts by government to prevent child pornography reaching the internet.

With the 2015 general election getting ever closer, and with polls showing the Tories need all the help they can get, the Mail is not a paper Cameron can afford to make an enemy of for too long. · 

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Why is it ALWAYS tories in transgressional sex scandals? Labour just has common-or-garden leg-overs.