David Cameron: Immigrant amnesty 'is not a good idea'

Prime Minister says MP’s suggestion would send out message that Britain is ‘a soft touch’

David Cameron has bluntly shot down a suggestion from one of his own MPs that all illegal immigrants should be given a one-off amnesty allowing them to remain in Britain, saying the proposal by one of the rising stars of the Tory party would send a "terrible signal".

Nadhim Zahawi, the MP for Stratford-upon-Avon, wrote in an essay to be published next month that his proposed policy could help boost the economy and rebuild trust between the Conservative Party and ethnic minorities in Britain.

But Mr Cameron was not impressed, and said that the idea was counter to the Government’s policy of deporting people who did not have the right to live and work in the UK. “I don’t agree with this idea, I’ve never supported an amnesty, I think that it would send a terrible signal of Britain as a soft touch,” he told reporters in Brussels, where he was attending a European Union leaders’ summit yesterday.

The Prime Minister called Mr Zahawi “a very bright MP” with “a lot to offer the Conservative Party [and] a lot to offer the country,” but made it clear that policies seen as soft on illegal immigration had no place in his government. “I’m all for MPs thinking independently and having good ideas, but this is not an idea which is a good idea and we’re not going to take it up... The idea of an amnesty has no part in our policy,” he said.

Mr Zahawi, the 46-year-old co-founder of polling company YouGov, has been tipped for a future cabinet post. His call for a “seismic” policy shift was always going to ruffle feathers at the top of the Conservative Party, but the MP called on fellow Conservatives to “think outside of our comfort zone”.

He is not the first Conservative to suggest an amnesty for the estimated 570,000 illegal immigrants living in the UK – the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, has also voiced support for such a plan.

While Mr Cameron has ordered a drive to boost support among minority voters – just 16 per cent of black and Asian voters backed the Tories at the last election – he is walking a delicate tightrope at a time when support for anti-immigration parties such as Ukip is rising.