Clegg tackles immigrant amnesty critics

As I type, Nick Clegg has just finished an introduction to the party conference motion on immigration. He’s billing it as a departure from a government approach that has mixed “tub-thumping populism” with incompetence and promises “a much more rational, competent and fair response to this vexed issue”. But there are some seperate votes coming up from delegates who challenge a few of the policy motion’s points.

The headline measure is an amnesty for the estimated 600,000 individuals who exist outside any regular residence arrangements – people the government doesn’t know are here. The idea is to give those who’d been in Britain at least 10 years a chance to get a two-year work permit and then full citizenship.

To do this they’d need to pass an improved citizenship (less learning-by-rote stuff than at present) and pay a fee (“low thousands”, Nick guessed, when reporters pressed him at this morning’s press conference). There would also be a language test. The motion originally specified English, but I’m delighted to report a friendly amendment has been accepted to include the Welsh-fluent irregular immigrant in the amnesty too.

There’s no telling – Nick has emphasised – how many of these estimated 600,000 would come forward and how many have been here for the necessary 10 years. He says that it’s an experimental policy, and the 10-year probation could be shorter if that proves necessary. But at least some delegates here in Brighton are worried that the 10 years is too long and have won a seperate vote on that part of the motion. Nick has already been at pains to rebut The Independent’s categorisation of his motion as ‘get tough’ measures.

In addition, Nick has argues that the level of immigration to Britain is not too high and that there is no ideal number. He says the Tories have been “at their worst swivel-eyed… at their best they are silent” on immigration and the government have proved so incompetent “they couldn’t run the turnstile on a public loo”.

Co-author Simon Hughes is summing up and will be hoping that delegates are convinced the plans “make immigration work for Britain”, with a “liberal, enlightened, progressive, pragmatic policy”. We’ll let you know how the vote goes as it happens.

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