Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister, has been sensationally blocked from appearing on BBC TV’s ‘Question Time’ tonight by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.
Ms Smith made the move following the outspoken new Minister’s embarrassing comments about asylum and immigration.
The Times reported that, in what looks like a snub for Phil Woolas, his boss decided that it was too risky for him to appear on the programme, where he would certainly face a grilling over his non-policy statements.
A Home Office statement announcing Mr Woolas’s withdrawal said:
“The Government decided that the economy and jobs were very live issues and wanted a minister at Cabinet level who could deal with these issues. We expect Mr Woolas will appear on the programme in the future.”
The decision to pull Woolas from the flagship programme was taken after four days of damaging headlines on immigration and disestablishing the Church of England, arising from an interview that the Junior Minister gave to The Times on Saturday.
In the interview he provoked controversy and damaging headlines for the Government by announcing said that a limit should be set on migration and that the Government would not allow the population to rise above 70 million. He also said that “Britain will restrict immigration to preserve jobs for its citizens” and that “it’s been too easy to get into this country in the past and it’s going to get harder”. The following day he appeared to back peddle on the promise when interviewed on television.
Then on Monday he said in the university debate that the Government’s failure to resource the asylum system and to remove failed asylum-seekers had caused misery and division in the country.
Digging himself in even deeper, he added that the public lacked confidence in what the authorities were doing about immigration because they correctly believed that the Government did not know what it was doing. Within hours his Home Office colleagues issued a statement attempting to “clarify” his remarks.
Mr Woolas’s remarks on immigration and asylum are viewed within the Home Office as damaging because they have undermined the credibility of the Government in its attempt to persuade the public that the asylum and immigration system is working.
Former Minister and Labour Deputy Leader Roy Hattersley said on the show tonight that an immigration cap would not be possible as we are part of the European Union which allows free movement of 600 million of potential migrants. He added that what Mr Woolas said was “not Government policy”.
First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, said Phil Woolas was talking “nonsense” and that Scotland was one of the parts of the UK which needed skilled migrants.
Ms Smith today denied the reports on BBC Radio 4’s World at One:
“I haven’t decided to gag him… he’s been doing a very good job as my immigration minister.”
The wayward comments played into Conservatives hands on an issue close to the top of the list public concerns.