The Government’s ambition on immigration is welcome – but the public will punish it if it cannot deliver what it has promised.
After all the speeches comes the action – and following some big promises made at the Conservative Party conference, the Government seems genuinely determined to tackle Britain’s immigration problem. The issues include a black market in cheap labour, overstretched public services and foreign-born criminals who cannot be deported. The contribution that legal immigration has made to Britain’s culture and economy is indisputable. But a country that cannot control its borders cannot control its destiny.
This week, the Government’s new Immigration Bill is due in Parliament, and its content is suitably ambitious. The Bill promises that patients registering with a GP will be asked to prove that they are legally entitled to live in the UK and to access free NHS treatment. Councils will be ordered to stop giving social housing to those with no connection to their area. Private landlords will have to run background checks to ensure tenants are residing legally in this country. Employers who hire illegal employees could face a fine of £20,000 for each worker. And, finally, foreigners who are refused permission to stay in the UK – including criminals – will be made to leave immediately.
But while the aspirations contained within the Bill are welcome, there is still the thorny question of delivery. It remains difficult to control migration within an EU of open borders – a fact confirmed by Romanian beggars who have been expelled from the country at the taxpayers’ cost, only to return months later. There are also the legal stumbling blocks to action that are a legacy of Labour’s Human Rights Act and our signing of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It was Labour who helped Abu Qatada to resist deportation for 10 years, while the ECHR’s guarantee of a “right to family life” has been spuriously invoked by many criminals in order to stay in Britain.
The public will not reward the Conservatives at the polls if they sense that they have made promises that they could not deliver, which means that the Bill could prove a serious political challenge for the Government. But then any subject that involves Europe is a challenge for the Conservative Party. The backbench Tory MP Adam Afriyie said yesterday that he will try to force the Government to hold an early vote on whether Britain should leave the EU. Rebellious backbenchers such as Mr Afriyie should tread carefully. The voters have often punished the Conservatives for disunity just as harshly as they have for broken promises, and it is going to be difficult enough to reform EU laws without the distraction of internal bickering.
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