Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Howard Ignites Row over Migrants

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Howard Ignites Row over Migrants

Article excerpt

Byline: PATRICK HENNESSY

MICHAEL HOWARD sparked a major new political row over immigration and race today.

In a landmark speech the Tory leader set out his party's policies on the sensitive subject, which will be high on the agenda in the run-up to the next election.

He launched a strong attack on Labour's stance on immigration - including the Government's "failure" to deal with public concerns over people coming to Britain from the European Union's new member states. Ministers hit back at him, with a spokesman for Home Secretary David Blunkett claiming Labour's record compared well with the Tories' years in power.

The asylum backlog has been halved from the level Labour inherited in 1997, the spokesman added.

On a visit to the Lancashire town of Burnley, which was hit by Britain's worst race riots in two decades, Mr Howard also launched an outspoken attack on the far-right British National Party. He branded the BNP a "stain" on British democracy and warned of the "shame" that would be visited on the UK if the party won a seat in the European parliament in elections this summer.

His speech was seen as a deliberate attempt to stop the Tories being portrayed as Rightwing extremists, a charge levelled by ministers during the leaderships of William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith.

Mr Howard claimed far-Right parties would only flourish if governments pursued "failed" immigration policies, a charge he levelled firmly at Tony Blair. He turned the spotlight on the Government's problems over how to address public fears about immigrants from the EU's 10 new member states coming to Britain after 1 May, particularly from Eastern Europe.

After a Cabinet "deal" earlier this week, new measures are expected to be announced next week, including a workpermit scheme and moves to delay the payment of benefits to new migrants for up to two years.

But Mr Howard claimed: "Almost every other country in the EU has quite rightly taken the precaution of putting in place transitional arrangements to deal with immigration from the accession countries. …

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