Home Secretary Amber Rudd has been forced to defend herself, saying “don’t call me a racist” after there was a backlash against her speech tackling immigration.
Ms Rudd claimed she had been “very thoughtful” in wording the speech, in which she suggested foreigners were taking jobs British people could have – despite the UK currently having record levels of employment.
Critics condemned the performance, which also saw her unveil sweeping new powers to drive down the number of people coming to the country, including “naming and shaming” firms by making them reveal what proportion of their workforce is foreign.
Challenged over whether she was “sanctioning a form of racism”, she said: “Isn’t that disgraceful really. The fact is, we should be able to have a conversation about immigration.
“We should be able to have a conversation about what skills we want to have in the UK, where we need to go out of the UK in order to recruit them, in order to help businesses, in order to boost our economy.”
She later added: “What it does seem to highlight is that we mustn’t ignore the fact that people want to talk about immigration, and if we do talk about immigration, don’t call me a racist.”
She denied she had fallen into the same trap as ex-Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who was accused of “dog whistle” politics when he called for “British jobs for British workers”, something he was heavily criticised by David Cameron for.
Ms Rudd told BBC radio: “I put this in the context of it being very clearly, about boosting the economy, looking after people here. And yes, I am aware of the language.
“When I looked at my speech and thought about how to present it, I was very thoughtful about not falling into that trap.
“We mustn’t shy away from having this sort of conversation, because we know if we do, it just pops up later in a more difficult way.”
The Conservatives were accused of peddling myths about foreigners taking British people’s jobs when Ms Rudd said firms employing from abroad could have to use tests to ensure overseas workers do not take jobs “British people could do”.
After hearing about the plan to make firms show what proportion of their workers are foreign, Acting Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce Adam Marshall said it suggested the Government saw having a global workforce as “a badge of shame”.
Under Ms Rudd’s plans to be consulted on, foreigners looking for work driving taxis could also be faced with mandatory immigration checks and overseas students will be hit by much tougher rules, including English tests.
The proposals were met with outrage from many business groups and opposition MPs, with the Liberal Democrats claiming they heralded the return of “the nasty party”.
In her speech today, Theresa May will try and distance herself from the liberal Westminster and metropolitan elite, by claiming that many politicians find people’s views on immigration “parochial”.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies