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A controversial report on the impact of migrants on British jobs has been published – adding to a coalition row over immigration policy.
Lib Dem Vince Cable has angered Tories by saying he is “intensely relaxed” about mass immigration.
And Nick Clegg accused the Tories of being “preoccupied” with a migration target they had no “no control” over.
But Tory immigration minister James Brokenshire hit back saying the number of new EU arrivals was “just too high”.
In a speech on Thursday, he claimed only the “metropolitan elite” had really benefited from “uncontrolled” mass immigration, in what is being seen as an attempt to woo working class Tory voters who have defected to UKIP.
‘Uncontrolled mass immigration’
He said: “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, hard-working people of this country.”
Mr Brokenshire’s predecessor as immigration minister, Mark Harper, was forced to stand down after he discovered his cleaner did not have permission to work in the UK.
The new immigration minister said the number of new arrivals from the EU was “just too high”.
And, in a dig at Mr Cable, he added: “Some have tried to claim that this rapid increase is somehow ‘good’ for the country. Well, just like the home secretary, I disagree.”
He warned: “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.”
The minister was responding to claims that a Home Office report on “displacement” – new arrivals from outside the EU taking jobs that could have been done by “native” British workers – had been suppressed because it did not back up Conservative claims.
The report, which is a review of existing academic papers on the subject rather than original research, was published on Thursday.
It includes a figure for displacement that is well below that previously cited by ministers but it also suggests migration has had an impact on the job prospects of some British citizens.
It says: “There is relatively little evidence that migration has caused statistically significant displacement of UK natives from the labour market in periods when the economy is strong.
“However, in line with some recent studies, there is evidence of some labour market displacement, particularly by non-EU migrants in recent years when the economy was in recession.”
It said low-skilled “native” British workers were the most likely to be pushed out of the jobs market by new arrivals.
Coalition tensions on immigration bubbled to the surface last week when new figures dealt a blow to Tory hopes of cutting net migration – the difference between the number of people leaving and entering the country – to below 100,000 by next year.
Conservative ministers insisted the target had not been ditched, despite net migration going up by 58,000 to 212,000 in the year to September 2013.
Vince Cable sparked Conservative anger by saying this was good news for the economy and returned to the theme in a speech to business leaders in London, arguing that Britain needed the dynamism and creativity migrants can bring.
“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.
“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.”
He urged a lowering of the temperature of the immigration debate and a focus instead on boosting skills, adding: “That is where our long-term interests really lie,” saying “scare stories” had to be killed off.
Lib Dem leader and deputy PM Nick Clegg, speaking on his weekly LBC radio phone-in, accused the Conservatives of basing their arguments on immigration on myths rather than facts.
He said the NHS would “collapse overnight” without migrant workers – and rejected Mr Brokenshire’s claim that immigration is depriving British workers of jobs, saying nine out of 10 new jobs went to UK workers.
But Labour’s shadow immigration minister David Hanson MP said the coalition split over immigration was “a staged row between government ministers who each want to blame the other for things that are going wrong”.
“Both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats know their immigration policies are failing to convince anyone, so they are staging a row to blame each other and differentiate before the election,” he added.