Labour allowed a ‘free-for-all’ on immigration during its first years in power, a Cabinet minister has admitted.
Large numbers of economic migrants were let into the country claiming they were asylum seekers, Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said.
It was the first confession from a senior Labour figure that Britain’s liberal asylum laws were abused after Tony Blair came to power.
Mrs Blears’ criticism came amid a campaign by ministers to reassure white working-class voters that Labour was listening to their fears over migrants.
On Saturday, immigration minister Phil Woolas questioned the 1951 UN convention that underpins asylum rules and added: ‘A significant number of people who claim asylum are doing so for broadly economic reasons.’
The number of asylum seekers arriving in Britain peaked in 2002 at just over 100,000 a year. Around 2.5million foreign citizens are believed to have moved to Britain since Labour came to power in 1997. Mrs Blears said management of immigration was ineffective during Labour’s first years in power.
‘Initially it was a kind of free-for-all,’ she added, with ‘a lot of people coming as economic migrants, but through the route of asylum seeking’.
On Saturday, the Mail revealed research by the House of Commons Library showed in the year ending September 2008 that British-born workers fell by 46,000, while the non-UK workforce rose by 175,000.
Today rebel Labour MP Frank Field will highlight how the system is undermining Gordon Brown’s promise to create 100,000 new jobs.
In a letter to No 10, also signed by Tory MP Nicholas Soames, Mr Field will say efforts to help the unemployed are being hindered by the Government’s policy of handing out 130,000 work permits a year to non-EU citizens.