Tories move to defend charge of racism

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The Independent Online

Tory MPs are being prepared for what ministers recognise will be a wholesale assault on their latest plans to crack down on illegal immigrants on the grounds that they are racist and in breach of international guidelines.

A briefing note sent to Tory MPs spells out a series of arguments that should be used to justify the controversial proposal of Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, to assume powers against employers who hire illegal immigrants. The proposal led to a heated Cabinet debate but Mr Howard appears to have prevailed.

Underlying the briefing is the assumption that the government will treat Nigeria, Algeria and Sri Lanka as countries unlikely to be the source of genuine asylum seekers.

The paper, prepared at Conservative Central Office, details the proposed package of immigration controls and outlines a blow-by-blow defence against allegations that it is racist and that it contravenes United Nations guidelines.

Set out in the form of a set of expected questions and ideal answers, the four-page guide also outlines the proposed changes. It covers the new "white list" of countries from which asylum seekers will not be accepted. Measures to force employers to check workers' immigration status and fines for those companies found to be employing illegal immigrants are not covered in the briefing, although the issue is still the subject of Cabinet discussion and has aroused serious concern among employers.

It also details the social security cuts outlined by Peter Lilley, the Secretary of State for Social Security, and the immigration checks to be carried out by head teachers, hospitals and other public sector bodies.

A recent consultants' report by KPMG Peat Marwick for the Home Office recommended the publication of a "white list" of countries regarded as safe. The Conservative Central Office briefing says introduction of this list is among measures to speed up decisions on people claiming asylum.