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Immigration rules upsetting friends, allies: UK minister

Recently-tightened immigration rules and “rude” behaviour by immigration officials are upsetting Britain’s foreign allies and threatening to impact on its foreign policy, a veteran Conservative minister has told the Hindustan Times.

world Updated: Dec 16, 2010 23:57 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

Recently-tightened immigration rules and “rude” behaviour by immigration officials are upsetting Britain’s foreign allies and threatening to impact on its foreign policy, a veteran Conservative minister has told the Hindustan Times.

Lord David Howell, minister of state in the foreign ministry who was a cabinet minister in the Thatcher era, said it was crucial to make citizens from friendly non-European countries feel welcome at a time Britain was looking to intensify trade and investment ties with its overseas partners.

New rules that seek to limit the number of non-Europeans wishing to live and work in Britain were affecting not only British foreign policy, but also its relations with the 54 fellow-member states of the Commonwealth, he said.

“The best and brightest skilled people have run into appalling difficulties in trying to get into this country — that doesn’t help our (foreign) policy,” Howell told HT as the government launched a campaign to put Commonwealth countries, particularly major economies such as India, South Africa and Nigeria, at the centre of its foreign and trading relations. “Our friends must be treated properly, fairly, and sensibly — that’s what I mean by the foreign and commonwealth office view of our relations with other countries.”

Howell revealed that Gulf countries – whom he described as Britain’s “good friends” — had asked if they could have observer status at Commonwealth meetings but had then complained about immigration restrictions that made it difficult for their citizens to take up residence in Britain.

Gulf countries had told Britain that ‘you say on the one hand that you want to increase our friendship, and on the other hand you’re not treating us properly.’

Howell said the British foreign ministry has “very strong views” on immigration and has conveyed them to other parts of the government, including the home ministry.

A senior British official told HT the foreign ministry planned to hold talks with its “rightful partners” on several policy issues. Howell, who is deputy leader of the House of Lords — the upper chamber of parliament — however said that openness had to be reciprocal.

“It doesn’t make any sense if we say ‘we are the greatest friend of X country’ and we find that when we try and go there, we can’t get in, and when they try and come here they are treated rudely at Heathrow airport. “We fully appreciate here, at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, that these are very relevant issues and we have a large voice in Whitehall.”