David Cameron's immigration speech: grist for the British right

British Prime Minister David Cameron's speech Thursday calling for curbs on immigration comes as anti-immigrant sentiment grows across Europe.

By , Staff writer

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    A British citizenship certificate is seen in London on April 14. Prime Minister David Cameron said on Thursday he wants to curb immigration, but that Britain should go about it in a way that doesn't isolate minorities in the eyes of other Britons.
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The row over British Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech on reducing immigration in Britain is fine tabloid fodder – and that is just what many critics worry about.

Mr. Cameron has again spoken bluntly about his nation’s immigrants. He didn't focus on Muslims, like he did in a February speech on multiculturalism, but on Thursday spoke about reducing the number of unskilled newcomers to Britain’s shores.

The issue is a sensitive one for a country that is far more ethnically diverse than it was 20 years ago, and that is seeing a populist backlash against immigrants amid whopping austerity cuts.

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Cameron argued that "when there have been significant numbers of new people arriving in neighborhoods ... perhaps not able to speak the same language as those living there ... on occasions not really wanting or even willing to integrate ... that has created a kind of discomfort and disjointedness in some neighborhoods."

Criticism of the speech was sharp, and even came from his own coalition.

Business Secretary Vince Cable, a Liberal Democrat, argued the comments threatened to inflame minorities and was “unwise.” Mr. Cable later retracted the comments and said he was completely behind Tory "immigration policy," which is regarded as less controversial than Cameron’s statements.

The argument made by Liberal Democrats and many in the Labour Party isn't that there are not merits to curbing immigration, but that Britain should go about it in a way that doesn't isolate minorities in the eyes of other Britons.

In Cameron's February speech that singled out Muslims that live in “different cultures [and] live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream,” the outcry over targeting one set of Brits was similar.

Some analysts feel Cameron is taking a similar strategy as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in allowing the cultural discussion to drift toward the right, where more voters are congregating.

France has received some blistering outside editorial criticism over its recent “burqa ban.” But as many as 80 to 85 percent of French agree with the high profile, but largely symbolic, stricture.

The Cameron speech also changes the topic of conversation in Britain, as did the British rally for airstrikes on Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya, at a time of historic and whopping budget cuts.

France's burqa ban: 5 ways Europe is targeting Islam

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