Immigration issue causes tension within UK coalition
London: British Prime Minister David Cameron has been accused of mishandling the contentious issue of immigration by one of his own coalition ministers ahead of a possible influx of Romanians and Bulgarians from January 1.
Business secretary Vince Cable yesterday warned that the Conservative-led UK government was making British voters "schizophrenic" about the politically-sensitive issue as the panic around a feared influx of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants from January 1 gained momentum.
Cameron has rushed new rules to stop people from the two east European countries immediately claiming benefits when they arrive in Britain once EU restrictions are eased.
"There`s a bigger picture here. We periodically get these immigration panics, I remember going back to Enoch Powell and `rivers of blood` and all that, and if you go back a century there were panics over Jewish immigrants," Cable told the BBC.
"The responsibility of politicians in this situation when people are getting anxious is to try to reassure them and give them facts and not panic and resort to populist measures that do harm. The simple point is there is very little evidence of benefit tourism from people coming from eastern Europe."
The comparison made by the Liberal Democrat MP to Powell`s anti-immigration rhetoric from the 1970s came under severe criticism, with some Tory MPs calling for his resignation.
"It would be very hard for him to sit around the Cabinet table having effectively compared his Conservative colleagues to Enoch Powell, which is an utterly ridiculous thing to have done," said Nigel Mills, the Tory MP leading calls for stricter curbs on new EU immigrants.
"Mr Cable`s always had a rather creative interpretation of what collective responsibility ought to look like but these comments, coming on the back of some would say completely sensible policy announcements by the Prime Minister to restrict welfare for people newly arrived here [who] can`t claim until they`ve paid in it just looks completely out of touch with the sentiments of most of the British people."
Downing Street was unapologetic about its immigration policy, saying, "Vince is a member of the government and supports government policy. The words he chooses to do that are up to him."
The debate around immigration and its impact on Britain`s public services has been intensifying, with British-Indian MP Keith Vaz announcing plans to camp out at Luton Airport near London to physically get an estimate of the number of Romanians entering the UK on January 1.
The coalition split within the Tories and Lib Dems is set to further heighten as the date of the lifting of curbs nears.
Bulgarian president Rosen Plevneliev has warned Cameron that his immigration policies risked "isolating Britain and damaging its reputation."
Under the Immigration Bill, "transitional provisions" have applied to Bulgaria and Romania since they joined the EU in 2007 restricting them from some work in EU member states, but do not curb travel within the EU.
The UK government, however, cannot extend the arrangement beyond the expiry at the end of the year and a majority of backbench MPs are calling for an amendment to extend the curbs until the end of 2018.
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