Cameron backs his immigration stand

David Cameron today defended his tough stance on immigration as "moderate, sensible and reasonable" after he was accused by Liberal Democrat cabinet colleague Vince Cable of inflaming extremism.

The Prime Minister said it was time Britain returned to the immigration levels of the 1980s and 1990s where the number of people coming to the UK was in the "tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands".



The UK needed "good immigration, not mass immigration", he told Tory party activists in Southampton as he attacked the "woeful" welfare system which saw Britons languishing on state handouts while foreign workers snapped up new jobs.



But his speech, which comes three weeks before Conservatives and Liberal Democrats face their first major ballot box showdown since joining forces in Government, drew angry criticism from Mr Cable.



The Business Secretary, who has publicly questioned the impact of a cap on foreign entrants on businesses and universities, described the Prime Minister's comments as "very unwise".



"The reference to the tens of thousands of immigrants rather than hundreds of thousands is not part of the coalition agreement. It is Tory party policy only," he told the BBC.



"I do understand there is an election coming but talk of mass immigration risks inflaming the extremism to which he and I are both strongly opposed."



But Mr Cameron said he could not be accused of fuelling extremism and denied alienating his Lib Dem colleagues. Speaking later in Woking, he added: "Firstly, on the issue of immigration, I would say the speech I gave was extremely moderate, sensible and reasonable, and I challenge anyone to read it and come to a different conclusion.



"What I was setting out is what is Government policy - what is agreed coalition policy in terms of controlling immigration properly, which we've debated inside Government, and agreed."



The split was seized upon by Labour. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said: "The Tory-led Government's immigration policy is in chaos.



"And now the Business Secretary has said he doesn't even agree with the policy in the first place.



"David Cameron said 'no ifs, no buts' he would deliver on his target to cut net migration to the tens of thousands, yet Vince Cable said that it isn't coalition policy. What on earth is going on?"



Labour MP Keith Vaz, who chairs the Home Affairs Select Committee, said the split in the coalition over immigration policy could be exploited by extremist groups.



He said: "We understand the need to debate these issues and I don't believe that the Prime Minister is wrong to discuss this matter.



"But I do think we should have some clear definitions and some clarity as to where Government policy actually is."



In his speech, Mr Cameron said reducing immigration was "of vital importance to the future of our country" and recognised that in some areas it had caused "discomfort and disjointedness".



And he accused Labour of inflaming the debate by "talking tough" but failing to act, a move which has "created space" for extremist parties.



Mr Cameron said measures such as an annual limit on entrants and a crackdown on "bogus" colleges exploiting student visas meant the Government was "on track" to meet that figure.



The Government would also consult on how to stop people coming to the UK on short-term visas and then settling here permanently.



Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, saw the speech before it was delivered and a source stressed that Mr Cameron was making a party political speech.



"This is a Conservative Prime Minister speaking to Conservative party activists using Conservative language," he said - saying the Lib Dems had "a slightly different opinion".



Local elections in many parts of England, as well as polls for devolved governments in Scotland and Wales and the electoral reform referendum, take place in three weeks.



Lib Dem sources stressed that differences with Mr Cameron were over the tone of his comments, not the policy.



A source close to Mr Clegg said: "The Deputy Prime Minister would not make a speech using this language - he is a Liberal Democrat - but the policy was agreed.



"But this tone and language does not reflect where the Liberal Democrats come from and are on this issue."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
news
Sport
Danny Cipriani of England breaks clear to score his second try
rugby
Life and Style
New research says leaving your desk can help you to avoid serious illness
health
Arts and Entertainment
tvSPOILER ALERT: Like a mash-up of 28 Days Later, Braveheart, The Killing and Lord of the Rings, this GoT episode was a belter
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager / CAD Engineer

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is the UK subsidia...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Trainee

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Cloud ERP Solution Provide...

MBDA UK Ltd: Test Systems Lead

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? MBDA has e...

MBDA UK Ltd: Principal Engineer - Embedded Team Leader

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? MBDA has e...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral