LONDON – Britain’s coalition government was bitterly divided over immigration on Thursday after the Conservative minister in charge of the issue accused Business Secretary Vince Cable from the Liberal Democrats of asserting “falsehoods” about the impact of immigrant labor.
The row between Immigration Minister James Brokenshire and Cable erupted as an official government study concluded there was “relatively little evidence” that migrant workers had taken the jobs of Britons when the economy was strong.
The review said there was evidence of “some labor market displacement” during the recession.
But it also found there was little evidence that immigrants from the European Union had an impact on the employment of British workers, although it was a “relatively recent phenomenon” and “this does not imply that impacts do not occur in some circumstances.”
Cable, a leading figure in the junior coalition partners, on Thursday told business leaders he was “intensely relaxed” about mass immigration and condemned “scare stories” about the issue.
“The free movement of goods, services and labor is good,” he told guests at London’s Mansion House trade and industry dinner.
“I am intensely relaxed about people coming to work and study here and bringing necessary skills to Britain,” he added, citing the Rothschilds, Warburgs and Cazenoves as examples of immigrants vital to the creation Britain’s huge financial sector.
The minister admitted that abuses of the system needed to be dealt with, but complained that those pointing out the positives of immigrants “need a tin hat and a gas mask.”
“We just have to stop treating people coming to work here as if they are a problem,” he explained. “We need to kill the scare stories. Business cannot understand why outstanding Chinese and Indian students who graduate from British universities with valuable skills can’t stay on and pursue their careers in British business.”
Brokenshire, making his first speech as immigration minister, attacked Cable’s views and said the number of recent arrivals from the European Union was “just too high.”
“Mass immigration puts pressure on social cohesion, on public services and infrastructure and — yes — it can force down wages and displace local people from the job market,” he said.
“The winners are the haves like Vince, but the people who lose out are from working-class families, they’re ethnic minorities and recent immigrants themselves.”
Brokenshire’s stance was viewed as an attempt to attract working-class voters who are being wooed by the anti-immigration U.K. Independence Party (UKIP).
Conservative ministers have frequently cited research from 2012 by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) covering the period from 1995 to 2010 that found 23 British workers were left unemployed for every 100 new arrivals from outside the EU.
But the new analysis stated that when data from the recession years of 2009 and 2010 were omitted, the impact of non-EU migration was not “statistically significant.”
Brokenshire’s predecessor as immigration minister, Mark Harper, was forced to resign after he discovered his cleaner did not have permission to work in Britain.