Political leaders should stop blaming immigrants for the nation's ills and focus instead on improving the educational standards of young Britons, a European Commission vice-president has said.
Viviane Reding warned that Britain was harming its economic prospects by making it more difficult for talented foreigners to study and work in this country when there were skill shortages among UK-born workers.
“Politicians need to work on the quality of education and welfare, so that people in this country can find employment and enjoy reasonable social standards,” she said in a speech in Cambridge.
“Simply trying to project all problems on the supposed issue of too many foreigners moving into the country is certainly not the answer.”
Ms Reding took a swipe at the “talk of curbing immigration, of closing doors” across the political parties and protested that the “distorted” debate about Britain's place in the European Union was distracting from work on reform the bloc.
Expressing dismay over the sense that Britain is “gradually, inexorably drifting away” from the EU, she warned withdrawal would have disastrous consequences as 3.5m jobs in this country are linked to a single market of 500m customers.
“Leaving our powerful trading bloc would severely restrict British companies' access to this goldmine and make the UK a much less attractive trading partner for third countries,” Ms Reding said.
She argued that the Eurozone should integrate much more closely fiscally and politically to become “the United States of Europe”, with Britain not part of it, but a close ally.
Her comments will be seized on by Euro-sceptics as further evidence of the continuing drive in Brussels towards closer ties. However, Ms Reding painted a picture of a two-speed Europe, with Britain outside the central core, promoted by many British political leaders.