It’s not often that I find myself on the same side of an argument as Sayeeda Warsi. It’s even less often that I find myself on the same side when it comes to marriage equality.
I am thankful, however, that the Baroness was in Cabinet to lead the charge – along with Liberal Democrats – against the Home Secretary’s outrageous plans to impose a draconian income threshold (of up to £40,000) on British citizens who wish to bring their spouses to live with them in this country. The Coalition’s harsh immigration cap is hard enough for a Liberal to stomach without policies such as this being used to achieve it.
This policy does not just violate Liberal Democrat principles, it also violates the Conservatives’ principles as well. If the Conservatives believe that marriage is, in and of itself, a Good Thing for society, why make it impossible for some British citizens to settle into married life in our society? If the Home Secretary genuinely does believe that British citizens should be able to marry whomever they choose, why make it impossible for some British citizens to marry the person they love?
The policy is ostensibly designed to tackle ‘sham’ marriages and to ensure that foreign spouses do not need to be supported by the British state upon arrival. However, ‘sham’ marriages can be rooted out by the interviews that were already being conducted. And although the threshold of £18,600 is far lower than the eye-wateringly high £40,000 that had been mooted, it is still higher than the average wage in many regions, including my own. Although a far higher proportion of workers in my area will be on under £18,600 than in London and the South East, living costs are far lower up here as well, but this policy’s inflexibility means that is not taken into account at all. It’s worse when you consider that the limit rises with the number of children you have so that you would need to earn £24,600 in order to secure visas for a spouse and two children.
In seeking to stop ‘sham’ marriages being used by people who want to get into the UK, and to ensure that foreign spouses who come to the UK do not have to be supported by the state, the balance has been tipped against UK citizens who have foreign spouses and want to build a family life together in this country. What of soldiers who fall in love while on a tour of duty? What of students who fall in love while studying abroad? What of businesspeople working abroad for British companies?
There are many other examples I could use, both rhetorical and real. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Migrants’ website has many more, and I would urge you to take a look. The JCWI suggests people contact Chris Bryant, Labour’s shadow immigration Minister – but I would suggest, if you’re as troubled by this policy as I am, Liberal Democrats get in touch with their local Liberal Democrat MP instead, or with our Minister in the Home Office, Lynne Featherstone.
I am rather concerned about the lack of noise being made by Liberal Democrats about this issue. With the honourable exception of David Ward MP, I am not aware of any of our MPs publicly speaking out against these deeply illiberal plans. There is an EDM on this issue which urgently needs signatures by July 22 – to date, no Liberal Democrat MPs have signed this. Why not? The fact that only 5 MPs in total have signed it so far is just as worrying.
Liberal Democrats, both inside and outside of Government, have made sustained arguments in favour of equal marriage laws for people who have fallen in love with members of the same sex. We have done so based on the simple principle that love does not discriminate, so neither should Government.
* Stephen Howse recently worked for a Lib Dem MP and is now working for a not-for-profit while campaigning for the party in Newcastle.