Cameron’s tough immigration stance will not go unnoticed in India
Does David Cameron get the contradiction undermining his trade mission to India? It's quite understandable that the Prime Minister wants to cosy up to such a growing economic power, but having spent much of the past few months talking tough on immigration policy, his pleas for help from India may fall on deaf ears.
Mr Cameron's determination to put a cap on non-European Union immigration is causing concern in India. Anger too, since he now appears to be wandering around the country preaching the virtues of bilateral economic support while, back home, promoting an implicit message that some of the people who have come to this country in the past for economic reasons are not welcome.
It's interesting to note that the coverage of Mr Cameron's trip in the Indian press — in any case pretty limited — has often focused on the topic of immigration. And what's really worrying is that the British Government's policy of a cap means many Indians are now equating this country with Australia, which introduced similar restrictions on immigration last year. Since then, relations between India and Australia have become tense, particularly following a series of attacks on Indians in Australian cities, which critics say the Government's tighter policies have encouraged.
Much of this is about perception. In seeking to appease those in his party and beyond who get so exercised about immigration, Mr Cameron gives the impression that a clampdown is imminent. That may have been politically astute in the context of the domestic election campaign, but his tone has not gone unnoticed overseas.
There are practical concerns. The British Council reckons international students are worth £12bn a year to the UK economy. If a cap on immigration threatens any of that revenue, it is a mistake. In the workplace, many companies warn of their fears that limits on immigration will make it impossible for them to recruit highly skilled workers from overseas — and that our own workforce does not offer sufficient replacements.
In the end, while Mr Cameron's tough rhetoric on immigration may have won him a few more votes, it will be utterly counter-productive if it undermines our efforts to do more business with countries such as India. It's no good expecting Indians to invest in our companies or to buy more of our goods and services if you're simultaneously giving the distinct impression that you'd rather not have too many of them come to live and work here.
n Labour MPs have been hinting at skulduggery over the way Nick Clegg changed his mind about the need for immediate fiscal retrenchment following a chat with Mervyn King, shortly after forming a coalition with the Tories. It would be fascinating to hear more from the Deputy Prime Minister.