O’Donnell breaks ranks in attack on immigration policy

By Charles Maggs

The government's immigration cap is seriously damaging the economy, according to former head of the civil service Lord O'Donnell.

The crossbench peer said limiting the number of skilled workers from outside the EU was a major block on growth.

"The first thing the government can do to help growth is to stop shooting itself in the foot," he wrote in the Times this morning.

"A big barrier to growth is an immigration policy that deprives the UK of skilled workers in certain disciplines. Lord Heseltine … clearly sympathises with the difficulties that businesses face recruiting these workers."

O'Donnell is widely respected in Whitehall having worked with governments of all colours and was involved in the delicate coalition negotiations in 2010. He was even dubbed 'God' – an acronym of his name, because of his seniority in the civil service.

The government has been attacked by many economists for its immigration cap, which aims to bring net migration down to tens of thousands.

O'Donnell argued more open borders had benefited Britain in the past and would continue to do so in the future.

"We cannot restate often enough that the UK has benefited from being an open economy which welcomes foreign investment," he added.

Despite the criticism and huge difficulty in enforcing their reduction goals, it is unlikely the government will change its course.

Immigration was a major issue at the last election and it is an area where the Tories are seen as stronger than Labour.