James Kirkup and Tom Whitehead, London Telegraph, October 25, 2010
The Prime Minister gave the reassurance following protests from major international firms and leading British universities that capping net immigration will stop them hiring the staff they need to compete internationally.
Mr Cameron’s remarks came amid new warnings that a forthcoming European trade treaty with India will circumvent any British immigration cap by allowing multinational firms to transfer unlimited numbers of Indian employers to the UK.
The Coalition has pledged to introduce an annual cap on non-European immigration, reducing net immigration to the UK to “tens of thousands” of people each year. Final details of the cap are still being discussed in Whitehall.
The policy has drawn protests from business leaders and Vince Cable, the business secretary, has said it could be “hugely damaging” to British-based firms who want to transfer staff from overseas to work here.
Addressing the annual conference of the CBI, Britain’s biggest business lobby, the Prime Minister appeared to signal concessions ahead.
Mr Cameron told the conference: “As we control our borders and bring immigration to a manageable level, we will not impede you from attracting the best talent from around the world.”
The Prime Minister left the conference to meet Jeff Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric, which has complained about the immigration cap.
Downing Street insisted that Mr Cameron’s remarks did not constitute a retreat from the Coalition’s policy.
But a spokesman for the Prime Minister said the final immigration rules would address business groups’ concerns.
He said: “We will be looking at the level of that cap and at the way in which it operates and making sure that works in a way that allows business to bring the people that they need into the UK.”
Richard Lambert, the CBI’s director general, said it was “encouraging” that Mr Cameron “made clear that access to immigration would not be a barrier to future growth.”
Mr Cameron’s speech coincided with a fresh warning about the impact of a trade deal being negotiated between the European Union and India.
The pact could allow multinational companies operating in India and the EU an unlimited right to transfer employees between the two.
The trade deal’s potential implications for UK immigration rules were first highlighted by the Daily Telegraph earlier this month.
Migrationwatch UK, a pressure group, yesterday said that the trade deal could “blast a hole in Britain’s immigration controls”.
Sir Andrew Green of Migrationwatch said: ‘It looks as though the Indians are about to drive a bullock and cart through Britain’s immigration system despite government talk about creating jobs in the private sector. There is no point in a limit on economic migration if specialists from India are excluded from the cap by a separate agreement.”
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said the treaty, expected to be agreed by the end of the year will have “considerable benefits to UK businesses”.
A spokesman said: “We will ensure that any commitments placed on the UK by this agreement will be consistent with the Government’s commitment to reduce net migration.”