Migrant numbers in UK ‘may need to be limited’

Britain’s new immigration minister has said the number of migrants entering into the UK may need to be limited if the economic situation worsens.

Speaking to the Times newspaper, Phil Woolas said rising levels of unemployment in the UK would make immigration a much more problematic issue.

He told the newspaper: “If people are being made unemployed, the question of immigration becomes extremely thorny . . . It’s been too easy to get into this country in the past and it’s going to get harder.”

Mr Woolas also mentioned that the government was considering setting a cap on the total population in the interest of maintaining a balance between emigrants and immigrants.

“This government isn’t going to allow the population to go up to 70 million. There has to be a balance between the number of people coming in and the number of people leaving,” he added.

Responding to the minister’s comments, home affairs select committee chairman Keith Vaz said: “I would be astonished at a Labour immigration minister in effect changing the policy. His predecessor and the home secretary have made it very clear they do not support a quota.”

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants spokesman Habib Rehman told the paper that the announcement was a change in policy from the government’s previous efforts to introduce a points based system which would manage the number of migrants entering the country in its economic interests

Migrationwatch chairman Sir Andrew Green told the Times: “It is the first time that a government minister has actually linked immigration and population. If they succeed in delivering, they will have done our country a considerable service.”

Reacting to the comments, the Conservative shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said: “We have been calling for immigration limits for years now but the government have repeatedly poured scorn on this.

“But tough talk is simply not enough; they must now explain how they intend to deliver. Will they implement our plans for an annual limit on non-EU immigration, transitional controls on future EU immigration, and establish a dedicated UK border force to secure our borders?”

The Liberal Democrats home affairs spokesman, Chris Huhne, added: “This is pretty rich coming from the government that has so mismanaged immigration control over the last eleven years that it has not even reintroduced the exit checks that the Tories abolished. These checks are essential if we are to enforce short-term visas.”