Iain Duncan Smith came under fire from business leaders and lawyers yesterday for urging employers to give jobs to young Britons in preference to migrant workers.
The Work and Pensions Secretary delivered a provocative plea for companies to "give our young people a chance" rather than recruiting foreign-born workers.
He also suggested that high levels of immigration were hampering attempts by the Government to tackle levels of long-term joblessness.
Critics suggested that companies risked discrimination claims if they acted on his words and that his comments ignored the fact that ministers are powerless to stop EU nationals – the vast majority of migrant workers – heading to Britain.
Neil Carberry, the CBI director for employment policy, said: "Employers should choose the best person for the job. The challenge is to ensure that more young Britons are in a position to be the best candidate."
Paul Griffin, the head of employment law at DBS Law, said firms could face discrimination claims if they favoured British candidates over foreigners entitled to work in this country.
He added: "Iain Duncan Smith's speech, while on the surface seeming positive, is actually a crude political act to scapegoat migrant workers for a lack of jobs."
Mr Duncan Smith's comments, delivered in Madrid to a right-wing Spanish think tank, carried echoes of Gordon Brown's ill-fated call in 2007 for "British jobs for British workers".
He argued that tougher border controls are essential to support attempts to get young Britons off benefits.
Sean O'Grady, Economics Editor: "The notion of a fixed number of jobs which could be equally well filled by a 'Briton' or a foreigner is a fallacy."Reuse content