Tough talk but no real change on immigration shows the Tories are still the nasty party

Divisive rhetoric will not improve practices that put migrants' lives at risk


The day after George Osborne announces massive public spending cuts that will impact on the working poor, decimate councils and reduce police numbers, David Cameron plays the populist card with a speech on immigration.

Portrayed as a ‘one nation’ speech, it is a clear attempt to divert attention from the cuts and today’s immigration statistics.

Although details will not be set out until the Immigration Bill is published after next week’s Queen’s Speech, the highlights we have been shown are, at best, meaningless rhetoric. They also reproduce Labour’s mistakes of tough talking and over-promising – and can only act to reduce the public’s trust in the ability of politicians to deliver on immigration policy.

The prime minister’s proposals include:

  • New powers for councils to crackdown on unscrupulous landlords and evict illegal workers/migrants more quickly. Councils already have a legal framework to regulate the private rental sector and tackle bad landlords. But housing regulation has been cut and this proposal will be meaningless without funding.
  • Creating a new offence of illegal working and enabling the police to seize wages as proceeds of crime. Employers face civil penalties and since 2006 it has been a criminal offence to knowingly employ on irregular migrant. Most irregular migrants work below the radar in a low-waged cash economy and send money home at the soonest opportunity. Giving the police powers to confiscate wages is pure dog-whistling.
  • Creating a new labour market enforcement agency to crack down on the worst cases of labour market exploitation. What is wrong with extending the powers of the Gangmasters Licencing Authority and increasing the numbers of National Minimum Wage inspectors?

Worryingly, Cameron’s proposals also included extending the ‘deport first, appeal later’ measures to all immigration appeals and judicial reviews. This already happens in immigration appeals that are not asylum and human rights cases. It seems that the government proposes to remove refused asylum-seekers to their home countries, where they can then appeal.

In the three months to 31 March 2015, 2,242 asylum appeals were handled by judges, of which 29 per cent were upheld in that the appellant was granted asylum or leave to remain in the UK.

Nearly one in three of the Home Office’s initial decisions are wrong, a figure that is higher for Afghan nationals (40 per cent of appeals upheld) and Eritreans (45 per cent of appeals upheld).

Sending someone back home when a wrong judgement has been made puts lives at risk.

Unsurprisingly, the Cameron speech made little reference to today’s migration statistics, which comprise administrative data from the Home Office on asylum and visas, as well as demographic estimates on net migration from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The Home Office statistics show that visas for family and student migration are steady, but a 9 per cent increase in work visas in the year to March 2015, compared with the previous year.

Nationality of long-term immigrants to the UK 2014

Asylum applications are also steady, with 25,020 applications in the year to March 2015, of which the largest numbers came from Eritrea, Pakistan and Syria.

Work, student, family and student immigration from outside the EU make up under half of immigration to the UK. The ONS migration estimates suggest that in the year to December 2014, 42 per cent of immigration to the UK was from other EU countries.

Continued immigration from the EU has meant that the target to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands has been missed yet again.  In the year to December 2014, it is estimated that 318,000 more people came to the UK than left as emigrants. Unsurprisingly, announcements from Downing Street and the Home Office did not mention the missed target.

Overall, there was little positive in today’s announcements. There were no proposals to promote integration which might help us live together better. Rather, today’s proposals are distracting rhetoric which create a vicious circle of ‘tough talk’ that reinforce negative public attitudes.

These, in turn, prompt ever more uncompromising statements. So, no change from the nasty party.

Jill Rutter is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward.

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