Cable frustrated by ‘damaging’ immigration cap

By Alex Stevenson

Business secretary Vince Cable has sparked speculation he could quit the government after attacking the coalition’s immigration cap policy.

The senior Liberal Democrat called the cap on non-EU workers “very damaging to the UK economy” in a video interview with the Financial Times newspaper.

He was reported by the Mail as telling a conference that he was “at the limits of collective responsibility” as he called for a more flexible implementation of the policy.

Home secretary Theresa May announced plans to implement the cap, a key part of the Conservative party election manifesto, earlier this year. An interim limit will be replaced by a permanent cap in April 2011.

“Of course I’m part of the government and we have a policy that we all subscribe to, which is that there has to be an overall cap on migration from outside the European Union,” Dr Cable said.

“Nonetheless, I am the business secretary and I have to represent business and the contribution that business makes to the British economy.

“The brutal fact is that the way the system is currently being applied is very damaging. We have now lots of case studies of companies which are either not investing or relocating or in many cases just not able to function effectively because they cannot get key staff – management, specialist engineers and so on – from outside the European Union.”

The former Lib Dem deputy leader, who stepped down from the job to concentrate on his role in government, has privately admitted he finds many aspects of the coalition “uncomfortable”.

His remarks are poorly timed for party unity. They come days before the party’s first autumn conference in government gets underway, with ministers facing confrontation with disgruntled party activists.