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UK cabinet split over migrant cap

British Business Secretary Vince Cable says stringent implementation of caps on non-European migrants has begun to hurt the country’s economy, with businesses either relocating or holding back investments.

world Updated: Sep 18, 2010 00:24 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

British Business Secretary Vince Cable says stringent implementation of caps on non-European migrants has begun to hurt the country’s economy, with businesses either relocating or holding back investments.

His comments came after he was reported to have publicly threatened to quit Britain’s coalition government over the caps, which mainly affect Indian businesses and skilled immigrants.

Cable told a conference of British and German politicians and business leaders on Thursday that he was “at the limit of collective responsibility” and that he was “not willing” to defend the policy. One British company that needed 500 specialists — 250 from outside the European Union (EU) — had been allowed to hire only 30, he said.

Although his aides played down the threat, Cable again lashed out at the caps in a separate newspaper interview, saying that while he was signed up to the coalition government’s commitment to an overall non-EU cap, “The brutal fact is that the way the system is currently being applied is very damaging.”

“We have now lots of case studies of companies which are either not investing or are relocating or in many cases just not able to function effectively because they cannot get key staff — management, specialists engineers and so on — from outside the EU,” he told the Financial Times.

Cable, a Liberal Democrat, risks opening up a chasm in the coalition government. Immigration was a major issue at this year’s general election, but the government cannot do anything about migrants from the EU’s 27 member-states, whose citizens are free to live and work in each other’s countries.

At the same time, opportunistic plans to limit migrants from outside the EU region —mainly India — risk damaging the British economy just when it emerges from its worst recession in 60 years.