Tory MP slams Priti Patel and government ministers for branding key workers ‘unskilled’

PUBLISHED: 13:15 18 May 2020 | UPDATED: 13:25 18 May 2020

Home Secretary Priti Patel answers questions from members of the Commons Home Affairs Committee during a virtual hearing. Photograph: House of Commons/PA Wire.

Home Secretary Priti Patel answers questions from members of the Commons Home Affairs Committee during a virtual hearing. Photograph: House of Commons/PA Wire.

A former immigration minister and Tory MP has slammed Priti Patel and ministers for the language used to describe key workers who have been at the centre of seeing the country through the coronavirus pandemic.

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Caroline Nokes, who was an immigration minister under Theresa May until Boris Johnson took office, said that branding certain workers as “unskilled” was “meaningless and really rude”.

Appearing on Emma Barnett’s BBC Radio 5 Live programme Nokes called for a more “nuanced and intelligent” conversation about immigration as the government prepared to bring back its immigration bill.

She explained: “To refer to people who are working in the care industry, construction, road haulage, people who are stacking those supermarket shelves who we have been so reliant on over the past six weeks to feed ourselves, I think it is always a mistake to call them unskilled. They may not have graduate qualifications, they may not be earning over £25,000 a year, that does not mean they are unskilled.”

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She added: “We need to move away from the really blunt skilled and unskilled terms because to be quite frank they are meaningless and actually really rude to those people who we have been so reliant on not just in the last eight weeks but for a very, very long time in this country.”

Nokes’ criticism comes as opposition politicians accused the Tories of double standards over key workers.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “It is rank hypocrisy towards our NHS and care workers – over 180,000 in England and Wales alone – to stand and clap for them on a Thursday night, and then tell them that they are not welcome in the UK on a Monday.

“The home secretary has been invisible throughout this crisis – and now her first major intervention is a Bill that will make workers in the NHS and the care sector feel unwelcome in this country, as well as labelling retail workers, carers, local government workers, refuse collectors, and many more as ‘low skilled’ – the very same workers who have been keeping this country running throughout the crisis.

Caroline Nokes, former minister of state for immigration, speaks in parliament. Photograph: Parliament TV.Caroline Nokes, former minister of state for immigration, speaks in parliament. Photograph: Parliament TV.

“This Bill creates a threat to our national interest. It risks the NHS not being able to fill the desperately needed roles for trained nurses and care home workers at the very moment when we rely on the NHS most.”

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