The Tories’ “foolish” approach to immigration is stopping industries recovering from the pandemic because it has caused huge labour shortages, the Lib Dems will warn.
Alistair Carmichael, home affairs spokesman, has told the party conference that new immigration rules are depriving businesses of the workers they need.
Calling for the “arbitrary salary threshold” of £25,000 for unskilled workers to be scrapped, Mr Carmichael criticised Home Secretary Priti Patel’s “foolishness of introducing a new immigration system in the middle of a global pandemic”.
Mr Carmichael’s speech on the opening day of the Lib Dem conference also accused Ms Patel and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of a “cruel and selfish” approach towards refugees fleeing Afghanistan.
He said: “Patel’s new immigration rules deprive British businesses of the workforce that they need to rebuild our economy: the lorry drivers to supply our shops and supermarkets; the workers for our care homes and hospitality industry.
“If only they had done a bit of brainstorming on these issues they may have understood the foolishness of introducing the new immigration system in the middle of a global pandemic.
“At the very least, they must start listening to business now.
“Expand the Youth Mobility Scheme to EU citizens and scrap the arbitrary salary threshold that dismisses key workers as unskilled and allow employers to recruit the workers they need to get us out of this crisis.”
On the crisis in Afghanistan, he told Lib Dem members: “Priti Patel and Boris Johnson want us to believe that everyone is as cruel and selfish as they are – but they are wrong.
“The United Kingdom has a long and proud history of helping people fleeing for their lives and they are on the wrong side of it.
“They (the Government) refuse to provide safe and legal routes for refugees to come here while introducing a Nationality and Borders Bill that denies asylum to those who do not come here legally. Orwell himself could not improve on that one.”
Suggesting a “humanitarian visa” for people fleeing, Mr Carmichael added: “Priti Patel presides over a Home Office that brainstorms ideas about fantasy islands to process the claims of refugees and asylum seekers, building floating walls in the sea or giant wave machines to blow refugees away from our coast.
“How desperate do you have to be to entrust the safety of your children to someone you have never met – someone to whom you have had to pay a fee – not to take them in a modern, purpose-built ferry but in an open, inflatable boat across a busy shipping lane like the Channel or some other stretch of water?
“Imagine where that desperation started.
“We saw it this year – people trying to climb aboard planes in the airport in Kabul. For hundreds of thousands of people it is the desperation of that journey that leads them to take these risks.
“I don’t know if our Home Secretary lacks the empathy or imagination to put herself in the place of these desperate people who take these risks to get to our shores. But I do know that her response to that growing crisis shames our country.
“Her response to people fleeing from war, persecution or torture is to send boats out to the middle of the English Channel and force them back towards France as if she is playing some sort of life-size game of whack-a-mole.”