Ethnic Minorities Liberal Democrats react to Nick Clegg’s immigration speech

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 Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats Twitter: @EMLibDems FB: groups/EMLibDems

* Lester Holloway is a former councillor and member of the Equalities Policy Working Group, and a member of the Race Equality Taskforce

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  • Simon Hebditch 25th Mar '13 - 11:13am

    I welcome this statement very much. Unfortunately, Nick Clegg’s speech ended up fueling an anti-immigrant view whatever its intentions. There needs to be a coherent response to his suggestions from the party and a re-assertion of the party’s policy making process.

    Nick can’t just decide to jettison party policy on a whim – his perspective must be argued through the party machinery including the new working group, the Federal Policy Committee and conference. For now, party policy should remain what it was.

  • Henry McLaughlin 25th Mar '13 - 11:39am

    During the Eastleigh by-election the Lib Dem candidate came out against the amnesty for illegal immigrants policy, and I thought to myself, at least Nick Clegg is sensible and liberal about this. Today’s speech shows he’s drifted right on this as well. If this is pure positioning to gain votes from people considering voting UKIP then its as bad as New Labour’s rush to the Daily Mail agenda. I quit the party a few months ago as there were too many Tory policies being enthusiastically supported by the leadership, and that’s not showing much sign of changing. As a minor aside, it also means that these countries are likely to place reciprocal bond agreements when UK nationals travel to them (as they do with expensive visas) making travel to these countries impossibly expensive for most people. Nice.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 25th Mar '13 - 12:49pm

    I fear that Nick has been let down again by the ‘in-house’ and potentially out of touch advisors, and as a result of their naivety our party could well end fostering further racial hatred within this country by pandering to the Right, whom we will never win over anyway.

    When is our party going to take these issues seriously and actually consult with those with the knowledge understanding and skills that exist within, and are committed to the core ethos of the Party?

    Before such statements are made in the future, that may impact on communities in a negative manner, please undertake an impact assessment, they can limit the damage that may be done to the Party and more importantly harm to people who will now come even more under the spotlight of intolerance.

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera

    Liberal Democrat English Party Diversity Champion
    Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrat (EMLD) – Vice Chair
    Liberal Democrat South Central Region Executive – Diversity Officer

    Mobile: +44 7886 799 256

    E-mail: [email protected]

  • Richard Dean 25th Mar '13 - 1:29pm

    Visitors visiting for a wedding or family get together are not immigrants, they’re tourists. Also, immigrants in general are not the same as asylum seekers. The LibDem website does not seem to show much evidence that Libdems have a policy on immigration. The nearest to a policy seems to be this:

    We believe in a fair but firm immigration system. Highly-skilled immigrations can help us build a stronger economy, but the system must be fair.

    No more child detention
    We have ended the scandal of detaining innocent children for immigration purposes.

    Cracking down on abuse
    We have cracked down on bogus students from abroad abusing the immigration system.

    High-skilled immigrants
    We are making sure only the best and brightest immigrants come to work in the UK, such as experts in science and engineering. That way, they will help build a stronger economy.

    If this is all there is, then it’s no wonder Nick and the MPs have to invent policy on the fly. I suggest that the ELMD and other relevant groups within the party could best proceed by starting to do a bit of realistic thinking on the issues, which probably include

    > remembering that this is about human beings
    > practical matters – whether and how to define, identify, measure and control immigration
    > social, economic and financial implications
    > infrastructure implications
    > implications for concepts of national identity
    > rights, and human rights – of existing citizens, of immigrants, of visitors
    > how to integrate, how to induct, how to manage cultural differences and the tensions they sometimes cause
    > needs to educate, re-assure, gain and maintain trust
    > how to detect over-stayers, and what to do with them
    > what UK emigrants experience in other countries, what other countries do, and how other countries may react

    and a whole lot more. Maybe a start would be to have a brainstorming session to identify what all the issues are.

  • Let’s be clear Richard. What you are advocating is stealing a high skilled immigrant from his/her poor country, that has spent money educating him and her. In return for some foreign aid.

  • “Let’s be clear Richard. What you are advocating is stealing a high skilled immigrant from his/her poor country, that has spent money educating him and her. In return for some foreign aid.”

    Isn’t that what the party website quoted by Richard is saying? (Except I don’t see anything there about foreign aid.)

  • Alex Dingwall 25th Mar '13 - 4:16pm

    Nick would have done well to listen to Nils Muiznieks, European Commissioner for Human Rights, who spoke at the European Economic and Social Committee on 15th March 2013. His speech was entitled: “Immigration – a source of wealth and duties for Europe”.

    Three quotes from his speech are particularly worthy of repeating:

    “Unfortunately, the pull of those opposing migration is very strong. The rhetoric of fear and hatred of migrants is spread by politicians at low and high levels in many European countries. Various groups and parties present migrants as a threat to public health and security and as adding to the suffering of Europeans hard-hit by the economic crisis. Moreover, migrants are increasingly pictured as threatening the identity of European nations, even though these have always been inherently multi-ethnic.”

    “The political scene in some countries, including the United Kingdom and Germany, has become recently animated by heated debates on the threat posed by an imminent “flood” of “Balkan Roma” to these countries. The populations of Western European countries are being warned about the disastrous outcome of the future “invasion” by Roma from Bulgaria and Romania to their lands, once the restrictions on the employment for citizens from these two countries are lifted in January 2014. A whistle should be blown here to stop this shameful rhetoric. Treating Bulgarian and Romanian citizens like a scourge is simply unacceptable.”

    “Protecting migrants is a moral and legal obligation that no European state can renounce and the human rights perspective should not be lost in any discussion or policy concerning migrants.”

    I hope Nick does indeed listen to both the petition from Liberal Youth and the views of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats.

    Labour and the Conservatives may be happy to continue their war of words about who is tougher on immigration but as Liberal Democrats we should offer an alternative voice, a liberal voice, on immigration, and that isn’t what security bonds do.

  • @Madli
    “What you are advocating is stealing a high skilled immigrant from his/her poor country, that has spent money educating him and her. In return for some foreign aid.”

    Yes that’s what immigration does, however you dress up! The people who wear their “liberal” values on their sleeves tend to forget the flipside of immigration… It is perfectly acceptable for the UK to refuse to take immigrants with particular skillsets from particular countries, even though those skills are in short supply in the UK, if by doing so they are helping that country. For example, in the late 1980’s many colleagues with IT skills but who didn’t have a UK passport were able to readily obtain US ‘green cards’, whereas it was very difficult for a UK national to do similar because of the relationship between the two countries.

    We should also remember when people make statements such as “immigrants are far less likely to claim benefits or take social housing and more likely to pay taxes and start businesses.”, there actually talking about first generation immigrants, who tend to be more motivated. However, this motivation doesn’t cascade down the generations.

  • @Madli
    People don’t always find opportunities at home that is why they go to another country to find something better.

  • Richard Dean 25th Mar '13 - 4:56pm


    I cannot see any place in my comments where I have advocated that! I have simply quoted from the LibDem website, which probably means it is LibDem policy. I agree that attracting skills here can impoverish the source country, but even so I don’t see where your mention of aid comes from.

  • All this talk of immigration to the UK is out of proportion. I live in a country that has millions of migrants many of them illegal from the surrounding countries.

  • What white western liberals have been advocating is to hoover up all the developing world’s talents for themselves, not thinking that what it would do to the host countries. keeping them in poverty and taking away the people that would help them develop and become economic competitors. No place is this more true than in my continent of origin – Africa.

  • Madli – not sure what you would prefer ‘white western liberals’ to do ? Oppose migration?

  • “Madli – not sure what you would prefer ‘white western liberals’ to do ? Oppose migration?”

    Can you not see why Madli is objecting to the party saying “We are making sure only the best and brightest immigrants come to work in the UK”? It’s a difficult problem, but creaming off the most talented people in the developing world in order to strengthen the UK economy certainly doesn’t seem like an enlightened thing to do. Perhaps the most enlightened thing to do would be to give them a financial incentive to apply their talents in their own countries?

  • Richard Dean 26th Mar '13 - 7:49am

    I agree Madli. It’s the new form of colonial exploitation. But lots can be done to resist it. People in Ghana, for example, are building a great country, and many have no desire at all to emigrate.

  • Immigration also puts an acceptable face on racist viewpoints, enabling them to be stated in public.Over decades there are many people, across the political spectrum who have express views along the lines of ‘these jobs need doing but they aren’t suitable for (our) members/school leavers etc, so we need/let the immigrants do them’. There is also the unspoken converse – the negative portrayal and discrimination against the established local population and its ethnic groups.

  • The discourse on immigration is baffling.

    Immigration happens because people seek better opportunities for themselves. This is good and is to be applauded. Immigration cannot be stopped and it is the cause of needless waste to try to stop it.

    Liberals do not seek to restrict access to opportunity, rather we seek to expand the range and number of available opportunities.

    Immigration policy needs to reestablish the link with foreign policy – we should find more ways of encouraging those countries emigrants wish to escape from to create greater, and more equal opportunity for their citizens.

    Migration imbalances should be used as a means to shame the governments of those countries which fail their population, and we should direct international aid to offering transitional support on this basis.

    Identifying ‘high risk’ nations is an unhelpful start, but it is a start.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 26th Mar '13 - 11:29am

    “The discourse on immigration is baffling”

    @ Oranjepan I agree with the points that you raise, and cannot understand the paternalistic and very patronising argument that immigration is somehow ‘stealing’ the resources of other countries.

    The reality is that a considerable percentage of people from the Commonwealth countries specifically return to their homelands with even greater skills etc, that further aid these countries development.

    Why should not the peoples of developing countries also enjoy the benefits of working, and gaining skills overseas as many Western European, Australasian and USA citizens do?

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera

    Liberal Democrat English Party Diversity Champion
    Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrat (EMLD) – Vice Chair

  • Richard Dean 26th Mar '13 - 11:39am

    You need to understand stealing and exploitation, R U-P. It’s been the basis of international relations for a long time.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 26th Mar '13 - 9:26pm

    Dear Richard,

    As a second generation migrant to this country, who is somewhat politically and historically aware, as are many BME members of the community are, neither I nor they need lessons in the exploitation of, or the theft from our ancestral homelands, we were informed of this as children.

    Griping about this historical fact is not going to resolve the ills of of the past, so we choose to gently remind people of past deeds, and hopefully this will influence the present and future so that people are not further exploited.

    A previously stated please feel free to offer solutions to the current problems of society rather than adding to them for we all need to take responsibility for the direction of Party if we have concerns.

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera
    Liberal Democrat English Party Diversity Champion
    Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) – Vice Chair

  • Richard Dean 26th Mar '13 - 9:46pm

    The theft and exploitation that Madli is taking about is perhaps rather more subtle that the theft and exploitation of old. If a clever person leaves a home country to work abroad, the home country loses, not only that person’s skills, but also that person’s energy and frustration. The energy and frustration would have been valuable as a force for change in the home country.

    In practice, I’ll bet few emigrants emigrate to improve their own country, they emigrate to improve their lives. If and when they go back, they won’t all be transferring skills to others , some will use their knowledge as a competitive advantage – specifically NOT transferring it – and some will be relaxing with the riches and maybe kudos they got from working abroad.

  • @Lester: A fantastic piece, you are 100% correct, far too many British poeple do not realise how lucky they are to have a British passport. The freedom it has provided us reaches far beyond any other passport, and many British do not seem to realise that this freedom is not a right, it a gift given to us by other countries, countries who could very easily take it away if we continue down the path of ignorance. You are also correct that a bond on ‘high risk’ countries will clearly promote racial discretion and yet further enforce the idea that only the rich should have freedom. As for UKBA, there is little I can say there, they are an awful organisation who have finally been put to the sword; it is just a shame that their replacements do not yet fill me with much confidence.

    @Roland: Are you seriously saying that freedom of movement is illiberal? Even if the people here promoting immigration did only wish for the highly skilled and rich to immigrate (which we do not, thus why we are against certain aspects of Nick’s speech) you do realise that most developing countries implore their highly skilled young to immigrant to countries where they have access to the best education and resources, so they can take the skills they have developed back to their home countries.

  • @Liberal Al – re: “Are you seriously saying that freedom of movement is illiberal?”

    If you are referring to “freedom of movement” as defined in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights then no. However I suspect that you wishing to extend it to cover movement (and settlement) between nations, in which case my answer is yes.

    Taking the question of movement in two parts, firstly there is the freedom granted by a nation to it’s people, to apply for a passport and to travel to other nations; a modus operandi practised by many countries. [Aside: Yes I accept that a minority regard needing a passport/id card as illiberal.] Secondly, there are the ‘freedoms’ granted by a nation to people travelling to them from other nations (ie. people holding passports issued by other nations). So provided you are prepared to accept the freedoms you’ve been granted by your nation and the nations you wish to visit you can have freedom of movement.

    However, if you think that you (an individual) should have the freedom to travel to which ever nation you wish, overriding or disregarding the rights of that nation to grant freedoms it deems appropriate then that is totally wrong and illiberal.

    Having laid out the principles for the movement of peoples, we can look at ways of applying those principles. Obviously, where agreements exist and granted freedoms enable, it is perfectly possible for nations to encourage the movement of people for mutual benefit and the greater good. As you and others have notes, many developing countries with the (implicit or explicit) consent of ‘developed’ countries do just that to gain skills. What is implicit in these arrangements is the expectation that the individual concerned has taken on the responsibility to return to the country sponsoring their movement after a relatively short period of time.

    Looking back over the comments, I also think that we need to be careful about the words ‘immigrants’ and ‘immigration’. Matters are not helped by government figures bundling all forms of ‘visitors’ into a single headline figure. I suspect that the majority of people (including politicians) regard ‘immigrants’ as referring to those foreign born people who come with the intent to settle here for an extended period of time ie. they either have no intention or incentive to return to their original country.

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