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14 April 2011, 13:20 | Updated: 14 April 2011, 13:26
David Cameron has given a speech on immigration on a visit to Romsey, near Southampton.
He denied that the coalition was split over tackling immigration, after he was accused by a Cabinet minister of using ‘very unwise’ language which risked inflaming extremism.
The Prime Minister rejected Business Secretary Vince Cable's criticism - insisting he was dealing with an issue of high public importance in a “sensible, measured, serious tone”.
As the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats prepare for their first major ballot box showdown since joining forces in Government, tensions resurfaced today over the subject.
Mr Cable, who has publicly questioned the impact of a cap on foreign entrants on businesses and universities, objected to Mr Cameron's call for ‘good immigration not mass immigration’.
“I do understand there is an election coming but talk of mass immigration risks inflaming the extremism to which he and I are both strongly opposed” he said.
But responding to his Lib Dem colleague's warning, Mr Cameron said he had never shied away from addressing the immigration in all his time as Tory leader.
“The country elected a Government wanting us to roll up our sleeves and deal with some of these issues.
“This speech is, I think, a very good explanation if how we are dealing with them in an extremely fair and sensible way,” he told an audience of party activists at Romsey Town Hall.
“I am very willing to be judged by the British people, not only on the content of the speech and the action we are taking, but also the very measured way in which it is being described and put forward.”
Mr Cameron acknowledged that there had been ‘some really serious arguments’ made within the Government over the impact of his action to drastically reduce the number of new entrants.
But he insisted that all those points had been answered.
“The policy has been agreed by the coalition. It is coalition and Government policy and it is being put in place right across the board,” he said.
“Coalitions do mean you have discussions and argument within your Government. We have had those, we've settled the policy, we've agreed it.
“We have a very good, robust policy and that is the policy of the whole Government.”
In his speech, Mr Cameron said reducing immigration was “of vital importance to the future of our country” and recognised that in some areas it had caused ‘discomfort and disjointedness’.
He attacked the ‘woeful’ welfare system which meant foreign workers could not be blamed for snapping up jobs that should be taken up by Britons languishing on state handouts.
And accused Labour of inflaming the debate by ‘talking tough’ but failing to act, a move which has ‘created space’ for extremist parties.