In a gloriously muddled performance, Labour minister Phil Woolas managed both to deny and confirm that the government has pledged to keep Britain’s population under 70 million.
In an interview last week with The Times, he said, “This Government isn’t going to allow the population of this country to go up to 70 million.”
But then interviewed on Radio 4’s Today program this morning, he said, “We don’t think [a numerical cap] is appropriate.” So this extract from The Times interview was quoted back at him, producing a wonderfully bizarre attempt to claim that quoting back to him what he said is wrongly putting words into his mouth:
Q. That [the Times quote] is about as clear an example as it is possible to imagine of a Government pledge. Do you stand by that?
Q. That is a cap isn’t it, if you’re saying that the Government will not allow the population of this country to go up to 70 million? That is a cap.
A. The figure of 70 million is not the figure of my choosing…
Q. Isn’t it the case that you can’t actually make that pledge because people can come here under our agreements with Europe freely?
A. That is also the case…
Q. So you’ve made a pledge that you can’t keep?
A. Let me just explain the policy. That 70 million figure is not mine, so if people are putting the words into my mouth
Q. [Interrupting] No hang on. People aren’t putting words into your mouth – that’s what you said, “This Government isn’t going to allow the population of this country to go up to 70 million.”. That’s nobody but you.
A. That’s correct and we stand by that…
So in summary:
Phil Woolas did say the Government would not let the population reach 70 million, but if you say he said that then you’re just putting words into his mouth, and when he promised that it wouldn’t let it reach 70 million he also meant that it wasn’t possible to promise this, and anyway a limit of 70 million isn’t the same as a cap of 70 million. All clear? Good.