Reaction to Nick Clegg’s immigration speech shows just how much our party values the cultural and economic contribution migration makes to Britain.
In fairness, Nick did say some positive things but the idea of bonds, thought to be for £1,000, on visitors from ‘high risk’ countries was inevitably going to write ‘tough-on-migrants’ headlines in the media.
No one wants overseas visitors to disappear into the unofficial economy or exploited by unscrupulous criminals, but we have a whole apparatus to deal with that already.
The Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats welcome Nick’s desire to double fines for employing illegal workers, but our membership and BAME community networks have expressed serious concerns about the potential for the bond scheme to discriminate.
There are many overstayers from Oceania countries but the fear is the ‘high risk’ countries will be non-white developing countries which would unfairly penalise vast majority of completely legitimate visitors attending weddings and other family occasions who can’t afford the bond.
While Nick said the ability to attend a wedding should not be “entirely” dependent on ability to pay it is difficult to envisage the UK Borders Agency – which already has a bad reputation within Black and Asian communities – applying the rule fairly.
We believe it could act as a deterrent and lead to resentment among BAME families in the UK. It was for this reason that Labour dropped the idea in 2000 and 2008 after it was condemned as unworkable and discriminatory.
People intent on overstaying illegally in the UK would do so regardless. What’s more, targeted countries could retaliate with a similar bond on UK citizens. So much for the Liberal ideal of freedom of movement.
Recently all parties are elbowing for the same political ground trying to sound tough on immigration. Yet there is scope for a more progressive philosophy in British politics. As a Searchlight survey found,Lib Dem voters are the most positive about immigration. Our representatives should reflect this.
In order to wrestle the issue away from the Far Right we must consistently address the myths about immigration and asylum that underpin public concerns.
All the evidence suggests that immigrants are far less likely to claim benefits or take social housing and more likely to pay taxes and start businesses.
Our party’s tradition of bravely challenging accepted wisdoms mean we are ideally-placed to develop a genuinely liberal policy that maintains the integrity of our borders and but is also compassionate. I hope that the new working party led by Andrew Stunell will achieve this.
Nick’s ditching our earned citizenship ‘amnesty’ for asylum seekers and overstayers sends out all the wrong signals and endangers our MPs in marginal seats with significant BAME populations.
Suggesting translation services should be replaced by English lessons was unfortunate. Short term visitors should be under no obligation to speak the language while most longer-staying immigrants do speak English but help for those that don’t should be a matter of grassroots funding not podium speeches.
Nick used the unfortunate word “tolerant” thirteen times during his speech yet the dictionary definition of tolerant is putting up with something you don’t like. BAME communities do not want to be ‘tolerated’ they want civil liberties, rights and justice.
Liberal Britain should be more than tolerant, it should be anti-racist and genuinely welcoming of new arrivals.
We desperately need a more multicultural political discourse that busts myths that stereotype new arrivals. That is why we must renew conversation within our party over how values in this area.
* Lester Holloway is Secretary of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and Councillor in London Borough of Sutton.