‘Feeble and pathetic’: Business leaders savage immigration minister
James Brokenshire was subject to a colourful attack from business leaders today, just minutes after his first outing as immigration minister.
Brokenshire used his first speech since promotion to go out to bat for his boss Theresa May, who was subject to ridicule after a report undercut her claim that 23 British jobs were lost for every 100 immigrants who arrive in the UK.
"Uncontrolled mass immigration can force wages down and house prices up and put pressure on social cohesion and public services. And let me be clear – it can also cause displacement in the labour market," Brokenshire said.
"Some have tried to claim that this rapid increase is somehow 'good' for the country. Well, just like the home secretary, I disagree.
"For too long, the benefits of immigration went to employers who wanted an easy supply of cheap labour; or to the wealthy metropolitan elite who wanted cheap tradesmen and services – but not to the ordinary, hardworking people of this country."
Brokenshire's insistence that immigration causes displacement in the labour market was partially contradicted by a long-awaited government report, published this morning, which showed there was "little evidence" migrant workers had a "statistically significant" impact on the jobs of British workers, especially when the economy is strong.
Immediately after the speech, the Institute of Directors put out a robust attack on the immigration minister.
"It is feeble and pathetic to hear yet more divisive language from politicians on immigration," director general Simon Walker said.
"The UK is an open, trading country that benefits from the skills and ideas of migrants. We will not become more prosperous by closing our borders to talented individuals and entrepreneurs from across the world.
"This speech seems to be more about political positioning and less about what is good for the country."
It was also flatly contradicted by business secretary Vince Cable, when he adopted the language Peter Mandelson used about the super-rich to demand that politicians use more moderate rhetoric on immigration.
"I know from experience that these arguments are difficult on the doorstep, where – after years of pressure on living standards and worries about jobs and housing – immigration is deeply unpopular," he said.
"But the answer I give is that I am intensely relaxed about people coming to work and study here and bringing necessary skills to Britain – provided that they pay their taxes and pay their way.
"Lower the temperature of the immigration debate, and we can create greater room to discuss the more significant, more challenging and more provocative issues around skills. That is where our long-term interests really lie."
The business secretary also insisted that contrary to comments from May and health secretary Jeremy Hunt, benefit tourism is predominantly a tabloid myth.
"There are a host of reasons to be a tourist to the UK, but its benefits system is not one of them," he said.
"We need to kill all the scare stories."
The two speeches show how divided ministers are becoming on immigration – particularly along Lib Dem-Tory lines.
But they also demonstrate that whole government departments are starting to butt heads on the issue, with the Home Office complaining of institutional bias towards immigration from the Treasury and Foreign Office.