Howard faces dual attack over immigration limits

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Members of the United Kingdom Independence Party and leaders of migrants' groups attacked Michael Howard, the Conservative Party leader, yesterday over his proposals to slash immigration to Britain.

Members of the United Kingdom Independence Party and leaders of migrants' groups attacked Michael Howard, the Conservative Party leader, yesterday over his proposals to slash immigration to Britain.

Mr Howard has proposed putting an annual limit on the numbers of immigrants allowed into Britain and has said that the Conservatives would pull Britain out of an international convention on refugees.

The Tory leader said: "Britain has reached a turning point. As a country we need a totally new approach to immigration and asylum."

Robert Kilroy-Silk, of UKIP, accused Mr Howard of stealing UKIP's clothes on immigration in an attempt to staunch the haemorrhage of Tory support to the anti-European party.

Mr Kilroy-Silk told BBC radio: "I made a policy announcement two weeks ago, saying we would limit immigration to 100,000 and that we would have a points system, where people would be selected on the basis of their skills, their aptitude and ability to integrate into British society and make a contribution to it. He is saying virtually the same thing. He is plagiarising it."

A Conservative spokesman denied the claim of plagiarism, saying: "We have been working for months on this. If UKIP also study the Australian plans, they are likely to be the same, but we haven't stolen their clothes."

However, Liam Fox, the joint chairman of the party, confirmed he had told a recent meeting of the Bow Group, a right-of-centre think-tank, that the Conservatives had to take action to counter a drift of voters to the UKIP.

Mr Howard denied his proposals outlined in a speech to an invited audience in London was a "lurch to the right". Net immigration had averaged 158,000 a year for the past five years, he said, requiring a million more homes than the Government was planning for. "Britain's immigration controls are chaotic, and out of control," he said.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said it was stunned by Mr Howard's proposal to pull out of the 1951 UN convention on refugees.

Habib Rahman, the chief executive, said: "We are utterly shocked to hear that the Conservative Party seems prepared to ditch Britain's long-standing humanitarian commitment to the convention.

"The Conservative Party continues to focus on abuse of the asylum system at the expense of stressing the human rights protection it affords.

"We believe that such a focus helps to create an unwarranted fear of immigration in some sections of the UK population and does not create a climate of acceptance towards people who arrive here either as genuine refugees or people who have a desire to work and contribute to our economy."

Peter Kessler, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, attacked Mr Howard's proposals as "preposterous".

He said: "It will not lessen the number of asylum-seekers and refugees coming and fleeing their countries."

The number of refugees seeking asylum in the rich industrialised nations was at its lowest for 17 years, Mr Kessler said.

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