The Tories today issued a new call for tougher curbs on immigration as they warned that more than 80 per cent of migrants to Britain since 1997 came from outside the EU.
Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said that official figures showed that 2.3 million people have moved here since Labour came to power. Of these, 1.96 million, or 84 per cent, came from outside Europe, where migration can be controlled, while only 374,000, or 16 per cent, had come from the EU.
Mr Grieve said the figures showed that the Government had displayed a “failure to control economic migration from outside the EU” and called for a ” fundamental change in approach” that would restrict the numbers arriving from outside Europe.
Two days ago Immigration minister Phil Woolas said the government was to get tough on migration but he has since backtracked
The Tory attack follows the comments by the new immigration minister Phil Woolas who caused controversy at the weekend by suggesting that he wanted to curb migration to prevent Britain’s population spiralling to more than 70 million—as official projections have suggested it will if the current rate of arrivals continue.
On Saturday, Mr Woolas had said he would make it harder for immigrants to come to Britain.
He suggested an upper limit on the UK’s population and criticised the NHS and councils for being too soft on foreigners.
But when challenged over the detail of his proposals on Sunday, Mr Woolas appeared to be in full retreat.
He played down talk of a cap on immigration—as promised by the Tories—and apologised if people had been ‘confused’ by his statements.
Opposition critics accused the minister—who took up his post two weeks ago in Gordon Brown’s latest reshuffle—of offering ‘words with no action’, while members of his own party said he had been ‘pandering to Right-wing extremists’.
Mr Woolas used an interview on Saturday to portray himself as tough on immigration, suggesting that Britain should adopt more stringent limits in response to the harsh economic climate.
He said the Government must have a population policy ‘and that means at some point we will be able to set a limit on migration’. He said he would not allow Britain’s population to rise above 70million—the current level is just under 61million.
Mr Woolas said on Saturday: ‘It’s been too easy to get into this country in the past and it’s going to get harder. There has to be a balance between the number of people coming in and the number leaving.’
He said employers should ‘put British people first’, and the Government must attempt to fill skill shortages by retraining the UK workforce.
Mr Woolas said a worldwide economic recession would mean more immigrants wanting to come here, adding: ‘The urgency [to sort out the system] becomes greater.’
Latest employment figures show that the number of Britons in work has fallen by 365,000 over two years, while the immigrant workforce is up by 865,000.
Mr Woolas also hit out at ‘health tourism’ and condemned ‘abuses’ by local councils, following recent coverage of immigrants being given lavish homes at taxpayers’ expense.
By last night his get-tough message was under close scrutiny, and he was forced to backtrack on key messages.
The Home Office played down any suggestion of a shift in policy, claiming Mr Woolas had merely been referring to the Government’s points based immigration system, which is already being implemented.
Officials were quick to stress that his talk of a ‘balance’ in population movement was not a pledge to match immigration levels with numbers leaving the UK.
Interviewed on BBC1’s The Politics Show, Mr Woolas claimed there was ‘a lot of nonsense talked about the cap’ on immigration.
He admitted that all EU citizens can work freely in Britain, and that it was ‘very difficult’ to say what a cap should be for workers from non-EU countries.
Asked to clarify whether that meant a cap on immigration was impossible, he deepened the confusion by replying: ‘No, I am not saying there couldn’t be no limit whatsoever.’
Mr Woolas added: ‘It is not a simple message and I am sorry if people are confused about it.’
He described accusations of pandering to Right-wing sentiment as ‘deeply hurtful’, adding: ‘This is an issue that I have been passionately involved in all of my adult life. It is the reason why I got involved in politics, to tackle racial discrimination and to help people who are immigrants.’
The Home Office said there were no specific new policies on ‘health tourism’ or social housing for immigrants.
Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve poured scorn on Mr Woolas’s statements and accused him of ‘ floundering’. He said: ‘The minister has admitted that behind his words there is no action.
‘We will do more than give warm interviews. We will introduce an annual limit on non-EU immigration and establish a dedicated UK border police force.’