Jimmy Burns, Financial Times, September 8, 2008
A leading Labour rebel has joined forces with senior Conservative backbenchers and an immigration pressure group to press for a cap on the number of immigrants in Britain.
Warning that it is unaffordable for the UK to continue with the “unprecedented wave of immigration”, Frank Field will become the first Labour figure to challenge the prime minister on a “topic that dare not speak its name”.
Mr Field, the former Labour welfare minister who led the 10p tax revolt, and Nicholas Soames, the Tory former defence minister, will launch a report calling for limits on the number of non-EU economic migrants given the right to live in the UK permanently.
The attempt to forge a cross-party consensus on tougher immigration measures will concern Gordon Brown, who has fought hard to neutralise immigration as a political issue. Immigrant support groups criticised the proposals as “divisive and wasteful of talent”.
Mr Field said he decided to work with Mr Soames to find “a workable alternative” after concluding that government immigration figures were “largely garbage”.
Under Migrationwatch’s proposals for what it dubs as “balanced migration”, the present points based system would continue. However permission to work in Britain would be limited to four years. Those wishing to remain would need to apply through a further points system, with skills being the main criterion for permanent settlement.
The report estimates that such a scheme would have a “substantial impact” on reducing net immigration, with between 150,000 and 170,000 people a year no longer acquiring an “almost automatic right” to settle in the UK.
The initiative threatens to be politically sensitive because of Migrationwatch’s controversial reputation.