The party’s immigration consultation: Liberalism deserves better

Liberal Democrat Immigrants exists to represent those members of the Liberal Democrats who have chosen to come to live in the UK from elsewhere. It also seeks to represent the interests of immigrants to the UK in general and to highlight those issues that disproportionately affect immigrants.

The challenge for Liberal Democrats should not be “how do we make a broken and inhumane system work a little bit less badly?”, but how we discard the broken system and in its place build something better, so that Britain can reclaim the reputation of an island of hope and welcome.

As you may have seen, the party is asking for members’ opinions on immigration. As Lib Dem Immigrants, we are fully committed to a liberal immigration policy. This should have been great news.

Sadly, on reading the consultation document, all that excitement faded, to be replaced with frustration at the nitpicky, timid mess of leading questions.

  • Expecting current policy and structures to be made fit for purpose with the barest of tweaks.
  • Failing to distinguish between actual problems and perceived problems — and naively assuming that addressing perceived problems with more “robust” policy will somehow placate tabloid-fuelled xenophobia. (hint: it won’t).
  • Focusing almost entirely on the benefits of immigration to the host country and barely at all on the benefits to the immigrants and their families.

Worst of all, and poor practice for a document that is supposedly a consultation prior to developing policy, it continually asks about details while ignoring broad questions of principle.


They asked:

Is the current earning threshold [to be allowed to have a non-British spouse join you in the UK] of £18,600 fair? If not, what would you do to change it?

They didn’t ask:

Is it right that the state should be separating family members at all?


They asked:

If an employer is found to be systematically employing illegal immigrants, what additional fines and penalties should be levied on such employers?

They didn’t ask:

Is it the job of employers to be enforcing the immigration system?


They asked:

What loopholes exist in the current system of border control that need to be closed?

They didn’t ask:

Are there aspects of the current system of border control that lead to people being wrongly excluded, detained, or harassed?


They asked:

How can we maximise the benefits of economic growth via migration and minimise the pressure on public services via migration?

They didn’t ask:

How can we convey to the public that migration is not a significant pressure on public services? How can we avoid dehumanising migrants by treating them purely as economic units?


We deserve better than the hair-splitting policy that a consultation written like this is doomed to produce. We should be leading with Liberal principles, not supplying our policy pre-compromised.

We need to be unafraid to make radical change in areas where current government policy falls short.

We need to show that we understand that — as written in our party’s Constitution — freedom of movement is a freedom, and one which we value.

We need to show that we have a vision of a Liberal pathway to a fairer world where closed borders are unnecessary.

This consultation will get us no nearer to any of this. It is written with the assumption that the current system needs only minor adjustments; it is written to elicit only minor adjustments from respondents. It should never have been allowed to go out in its current form, and we call upon Federal Policy Committee to retract it, so we can have the consultation we deserve.

* Liberal Democrat Immigrants exists to represent those members of the Liberal Democrats who have chosen to come to live in the UK from elsewhere. It also seeks to represent the interests of immigrants to the UK in general and to highlight those issues that disproportionately affect immigrants.

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92 Comments

  • Mick Taylor 21st Mar '18 - 5:59pm

    I agree with Adam. If you want to have a new approach to immigration and migration, then you have to start with Liberal principles.
    Can I urge all LDV contributors who are party members to participate fully in this consultation and make sure the powers that be are made fully aware of the huge dissatisfaction with this mealy mouthed approach.

  • Spot on. If we don’t challenge the myths about immigration – and champion free movement as a force for good, in every sense – who will. Sounds like this paper needs to be referred back!

  • I would like the Federal Policy Committee to extend the consultation exercise to include what controls we will require after Brexit on people from EEA countries so we can have an immigration policy fit for after March 2019.

    It is a long time since I have commented on a consultation paper, but this one often asks questions which I would expect the working group to have carried out research on, and this research would be in the consultation paper so we can give our views based on the evidence. Here are two examples:

    Question 46 is “Do you believe the Conservatives’ policy drive to create a “hostile environment” is working? Is it right? What alternative policy options would be both effective and fair in tackling the backlog of people without immigration status, and deterring people from overstaying their visas?”

    The consultation paper does not include any figures for readers to assess if the new policy is working. There are no alternative policies outlined.

    Question 47 is “What alternatives to Immigration Detention Centres would you favour? What evidence is there of alternatives being more effective in completing a deportation process? What are the costs of Immigration Detention Centres compared to alternatives like detention in the community?”

    The consultation paper has no alternatives to Immigration Detention Centres for the reader to judge if they might be better. The consultation paper provides no evidence or costs on Immigration Detention Centres or alternatives.

  • paul barker 21st Mar '18 - 6:40pm

    If this consultation has to be returned by the end of The Month (at the latest) hadnt it better be sent out soon ? I havent seen it.
    I agree completely with this article, we need to get back to our core principles & treat people as if they were people, not things.

  • Excellent points.

    One could almost think that with so many questions on the detail and none on the broad principles the consultation is designed to discourage participation. Almost.

    It certainly reads like the group have already made their minds up.

  • Thank you for this excellent article Adam (& the rest of the LDI team).
    I only hope it helps.

  • Adam Bernard 21st Mar '18 - 7:01pm

    @Michael BG – the paper contains other examples of asking for matters of fact rather than opinion; one would think these would have been established by the working group in advance.

    Q39 “What impact have recent cuts made on the Border Force’s ability to patrol and keep secure Britain’s ports and coastline? coastline? What evidence is there of organised crime gangs taking advantage of recent cutbacks?”

    Question 44: “Is the current system of fines for businesses that employ people without immigration status effective in deterring the practice?” (in passing I note that they don’t ask if it’s moral or desirable)

  • suzanne fletcher 21st Mar '18 - 7:24pm

    writing in haste and not in full, but one small point. when you say
    “They asked:

    If an employer is found to be systematically employing illegal immigrants, what additional fines and penalties should be levied on such employers?

    They didn’t ask:

    Is it the job of employers to be enforcing the immigration system?”

    I don’t think the question is about employers enforcing the system, but what to do with employers that abuse immigrants (and would be abusing UK nationals if they got away with it, but playing on lack of confidence, language, knowledge of life in UK etc). there is something in exisiting policy about stepping up enforcement, but it needs to be much more of a deterrent than that to stop rogue employers taking advantage.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 21st Mar '18 - 7:27pm

    I almost spontaneously combusted when I read the consultation on the train to Southport. Anything that has the word robust before humane really isn’t fit for purpose. I think the family income unit was probably the worst thing we did in coalition. 15000 British children having to live in a different country to one of their parents is appalling – and the system discriminates against women who often find it harder to meet the income threshold.

    We made a big play of love being equal when we campaigned for same sex marriage but we fly in the face of that principle when we endorse the splitting up of families.

  • Adam Bernard 21st Mar '18 - 7:42pm

    @suzanne fletcher
    I hope you’re right. If so, I’d just wish that it had been framed in the terms that you used, and if it had talked of *exploitation* of *any* immigrants; rather than *employment* of *illegal* immigrants.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Mar '18 - 8:30pm

    We need to tackle the cruel actions of the Home Office. It can’t just be blamed on the Tories because it’s the Home Office who implement the rules, make the mistakes and seemingly speak out little about what they are being encouraged to do.

    We should also speak out for British expats more and defend their state pensions and voting rights. Yes, I’m an expat, but if we defend immigration as part of free-movement then it will be clearer to the public that it’s a two way street and these options are not just open for the upwardly mobile but anyone who would like to retire abroad or their children study or work abroad.

    I would still stay away from policies that are too radical because often there are practical problems with them but we can move things away from the right-wing consensus on immigration.

  • @ Caron I’m glad for everyone’s sake you didn’t combust. When you say, “I think the family income unit was probably the worst thing we did in coalition”, you have a fair point. But what we often get on LDV is a kind of pick and mix of individual items that people object to.

    I suggest a broader view and looking at the picture as a whole. The LSE produced a whole string of analysis papers on Coalition outcomes on the net. To me one of the most significant papers looked at the distributionist outcomes of Coalition policy. It makes sobering reading and should be considered by every Liberal Democrat. It can be obtained by Ctrl and click on the PDF below.

    [PDF]Were we really all in it together? The distributional … – STICERD – LSE
    sticerd.lse.ac.uk/dps/case/spcc/wp22.pdf
    by P De Agostini – ‎2015 ‎Cited by 10 – ‎Related articles

  • Adam Bernard 21st Mar '18 - 8:52pm

    @Eddie – I think you make a good point, that in (mostly) focussing narrowly on how the UK can restrict immigration, the consultation ignores that all UK citizens are potential immigrants to other countries; looking at migration between countries as a multidirectional flow is arguably a healthier way of seeing it ­— and it’s important to have a vision of what we believe the international situation should be.

  • “We need to tackle the cruel actions of the Home Office. It can’t just be blamed on the Tories because it’s the Home Office who implement the rules, make the mistakes and seemingly speak out little about what they are being encouraged to do.”

    100% in agreement with Eddie here.

  • Yes, the Home Office were horrible under Labour too (they certainly were just as punitive and arbitrary when I immigrated to the UK in 2006), and I’m sure they will be under the next government unless we can stop them. They are set targets for refusing people and get money and prizes as rewards for doing so, just like the DWP do. They treat people like numbers, or a game.

    As does this consultation, frankly. We can and must do better than that.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 21st Mar '18 - 10:31pm

    @davidraw: There are eleventy million trillion places on here you can discuss the coalition. Please keep this thread to immigration policy alone. This stuff really matters and we have to get the policy right.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 21st Mar '18 - 11:12pm

    I agree with Eddie, very well put, but the criticism of the consultation I do not share as it asks us, surely we can say the things said here.

    I think Caron is right and have made that point, the income threshold must be abolished.

  • suzanne fletcher 21st Mar '18 - 11:33pm

    sorry not dealing with nub of the article in depth needed, hope it is still going tomorrow.
    another quick comment – or rather question. reason why I am in such haste is dealing with lots of problems thrown up on asylum housing contract. my dilemma with our party policy suggestions are the Government is about to let a 10 year housing contract for asylum housing and it will all be a done deal by September. So what can we as Lib Dems do ? there can be words like “better monitoring” which are impossible to track

  • Charis Croft 22nd Mar '18 - 8:48am

    Andy – I’m not sure I agree with you, but even if you’re right, the solutions are still wrong. Deterring people through punitive measures rarely works (or at least rarely works well) – see the war on drugs for a classic example. If people’s current home countries are in a shocking state due to war or climate change, they *will* move. They will do this even if we have draconian policies and the situations they come to seem to us also appalling. You only have to look at the current situation with people willing risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean or living in the Jungle at Calais for evidence of this.

    The most effective way of changing that situation isn’t to marginally make our country less attractive (I mean, even typing that it sounds like nonsense. Who wants to make their country worse??) but to do what we can to make their country more attractive – ie provide positive alternatives. So, there probably is a solid link between immigration and eg environmental policies, global security/foreign affairs and foreign aid, and in fact the globalist, cooperative approach that I think the Liberal Democrats should be espousing.

    The issue that many on this thread have raised, and with the consultation, is the relentless negative language – lets turn that around and talk in positives. About people who want to come and live here (which is AMAZING! What a vote of confidence in our country), and about how we make the world a better place so that wherever people are, they have a genuine choice of where to live that isn’t driven by fear or desperation.

  • The basic problem with these arguments is that the people it appeals to can’t vote on it and the people who can vote don’t really want it. Only about 5% of people think that Britain’s immigration policies are too stringent and over70% think they’re too lax. The argument isn’t really with the far-right or the press, it’s actually with the vast majority of the population.
    To win elections you need to have policies that the people who can vote will vote for. This means it makes more sense to have proper policies on education, health, wealth and so on, rather than holding lots of ideological positions about things like immigration. One of the things active politically engaged people tend to forget is that the general population is not driven by the minutiae of ideological splits.

  • Neil Sandison 22nd Mar '18 - 9:41am

    The biggest problem we have to overcome is cultural Nimbyism .Fear of the unknown and the impact upon your community is as much of a driver regarding your stance on immigration as it is in housing development . .All the evidence shows that those most opposed to immigration live in the areas with the lowest levels of migrant populations .
    Living as i do in an area with a mixed population i know those fears are completely irrational and emotive .We want all the benefits of an economically active community and well staffed local services but the general public seem to expect migrants to be invisible .There are myths about social housing but my experiences is most” new comers ” live in the private rented sector and only move out to the suburbs much later on when they have sufficient disposable income to afford owner occupation if at all.Lets try and make our policy fit the reality and not the cultural nimbyism peddled by the tories and the hate mongers.

  • @Glenn ” the people it appeals to can’t vote on it”

    It’s not /only/ immigrants who care about this, thanks. And it should also be a concern for liberals that immigrants /can’t/ vote. I could live my whole life here disenfranchised if I hadn’t paid basically a poll tax in the form of thousands of pounds for citizenship.

    “Only about 5% of people think that Britain’s immigration policies are too stringent and over70% think they’re too lax. ”

    Almost everyone I tell about my actual experience as an immigrant is shocked at how harsh and inhumane it is. People think it’s too lax because they literally couldn’t answer a pub-quiz-level set of questions on what the current immigration system is actually like. If we want to address people’s “real concerns about immigration,” the way to do that is by providing them with proper information and education, not by pandering to them.

    “it makes more sense to have proper policies on education, health, wealth and so on, rather than holding lots of ideological positions about things like immigration”

    It’s hardly an either/or! Look at how much immigrants add to our economy, our health service. And the Lib Dems /do/ have policies on health and the economy. The party just also sees fit to have policy on immigration. It actually can’t have well-formed policies on those other things without it; immigration isn’t ideological, it’s about people’s actual lives and their benefits to the UK. It isn’t an ideological add-on to “proper” policies; it’s intrinsic to them.

    Regardless of whether you think having an immigration policy is a good idea (though it’s certainly make us unique among political parties if we didn’t bother!), the consultation has been put forward and we need to address it properly.

  • Katerina Porter 22nd Mar '18 - 10:12am

    Am truly shocked by the consultation paper which have not come across at all. Where is it????

  • Matt (Bristol) 22nd Mar '18 - 10:25am

    Kaaterina, hit the link in the article.

  • “just because a cup of tea tastes nicer with a dash of milk, it doesn’t logically follow that a gallon of milk would be even better.”

    What makes you think this country would drown in immigrants? British conviction that it is the best country in the world and everyone would live here if they could always baffles me. There is no evidence for it. It’s not the expensive, intrusive, arbitrary and punitive immigration rules keeping people out. It’s that most of them don’t want to come here.

  • The two sides are /not/ that everyone is allowed here or no one is allowed here. The sides are that immigration controls should be more or less inhumane or that they should stay as they are.

    Every time anybody writes about th possibly of maybe making them less inhumane, somebody comes along with this straw man that in that case the Lib Dems want uncontrolled migration. I’m sick of it.

  • Toby: Your assumption that the kind of people who nod along with the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the tabloids would vote for us is dead wrong in my experience. Sometimes they throw things at us, on the doorsteps…

    “we don’t have enough support in the country to be idealistic.”

    I would say we don’t have enough support in the country NOT to be idealistic. We are not a credible party of opposition, never mind government. We need to have bold simple principles to attract people, and yes that will also put some people off. But we’re on 7 and 8% for crying out loud. We have to be bold or nobody will notice us at all.

  • I’m with Jennie here. All the people saying that we shouldn’t have policies that will lose us voters should note that we don’t have any voters in the first place. We’re in the position of having (almost) nothing to lose, so we can say what we actually believe in and attract the people that agree with us.

    Also, if we say the same bland things that every other party says, then the media will only report the other-party versions. It’s only if we say something different from both Labour and the Tories that they’ll even notice we exist.

  • Matt (Bristol) 22nd Mar '18 - 11:54am

    Toby, what are the responsibilities of British life, and (hypothetically, assuming we can define them) what does civil society do if the Home Office itself flouts them?

  • Matt (Bristol) 22nd Mar '18 - 11:55am

    “3) That all subjects to British law should understand British law.”

    I have to apply British law, and I don’t understand it.

    And do you mean English law, Scottish law or Northern Irish law?

  • One of the things that really annoys me about this discussion is that so many of the problems and complaints are really about the procedures and processes of how the Home Office conducts itself, rather than about the rules, but the immigration discussion all goes off into principles about who should be “allowed” in.

    I’d rather have a focus on not treating people who live here like rubbish than on the exact rules.

    How about not requiring proof that someone has lived here for X years and just taking their word for it? Obtaining an immigration status or citizenship by fraud is a crime, so people who actually abuse it could be prosecuted (and deprived of the status), but the vast majority of applications will be from people who actually do live here. Don’t need to amend the rules on residence periods at all for that. And it would save money by not needing assessors, so you could spend that money on auditors and prosecutions if you don’t want to spend it on, y’know, not treating immigrants like rubbish.

  • Toby: I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we have a third of the votes and a fifth of the seats that we had under Charles Kennedy.

    I agree that we need to persuade people who aren’t natural liberals – but there are millions of natural liberals who are running around not voting for us, and I think we should be getting their votes first.

  • Holly: “Every time…somebody comes along with this straw man that… the Lib Dems want uncontrolled migration. I’m sick of it.”

    Maybe because we never show any inclination to control it! And I know some commentators on this thread honestly believe in not doing so.

    and again “What makes you think this country would drown in immigrants? British conviction that it is the best country in the world and everyone would live here if they could always baffles me. There is no evidence for it.”

    Net migration inflows of 150K+ every year of the last 20 tell a different tale. Despite the many dissuasive factors.

    Richard Gadsden: “How about not requiring proof that someone has lived here for X years and just taking their word for it?”

    You don’t just think that might lead to a teensy bit of abuse by any chance?

  • @David these are people who already got a visa and a work permit to live in the UK and have had them for five years and are now applying for ILR, or are people with ILR/ELR applying for citizenship.

    What sort of large-scale abuse do you think there might be?

    People get permission to live and work in the UK, then don’t live here and still want a permanent residence? Because that’s going to be much more common than forgetting a weekend city break from four years ago and not getting your ILR because you lied on the forms…

  • paul barker 22nd Mar '18 - 1:35pm

    Since we make arguments about the positive aspects of Immigration, most Voters are going to assume that we are in favour of it, we are going to get the blame anyway so we might as well say what we believe.
    One point I think we should raise as a Party are that many of the places with the most hostile attitudes to Immigration actually suffer from Emigration (often to London or nearby) particularly of The Young & better-educated. No one else is going to raise that issue, we should.

  • David:
    “Net migration inflows of 150K+ every year of the last 20”

    Except last year when it was so low we don’t have enough of anything from NHS staff to social workers to people picking fruit and veg in fields.

    Also, how much of that 150k is students who even the Tories, with one notable exception, don’t think should be part of the immigration figures? How much of it is people who actually stay? Not a lot. This is not an appealing country.

  • Adam Bernard 22nd Mar '18 - 2:07pm

    Resources should be allocated fairly. People who do illegal things should face the force of the law. I fully agree with this.

    We also, when considering wrongdoers, should punish individuals, not communities. I would hope that in a party committed to liberalism, this should be utterly uncontroversial.

  • Adam Bernard 22nd Mar '18 - 2:29pm

    “You don’t just think that [taking people at their word] might lead to a teensy bit of abuse by any chance?”

    When you fill in an online tax return, HMRC doesn’t require you to submit every receipt; not even a line-by-line breakdown of expenses and income. They reserve — as they should! — the right to audit if there’s something suspicious; and they do checks — as they should! — with the information they have available. And the system basically seems to work.

  • * agrees firmly with both of Adam’s most recent comments *

  • James Baillie 22nd Mar '18 - 3:01pm

    Most of what I’d like to say has been said here already. If we end up with some sort of watery nonsense policy that fails to recommend radical reforms of the absurdly cruel immigration systems Britain has, then it will be a very great mark of shame for our party.

    Honestly, if we can’t put forward genuine liberal policies on areas like this, we may as well just pack up and go home as a party. The overton window on immigration policy in the western world generally has practically been pulled so hard to the right that the streets are filling with broken glass again; we are here to challenge that, it’s literally in our constitution, it’s a fundamental part of our mission to improve individual liberty. Building a counter-narrative starts by rejecting, decisively, the mythic narrative that immigrants are A Bad Thing and Take People’s Jobs and all these things that we KNOW are utter rubbish and which we can’t pander to if we want to honestly look people in the eye and say we’re going to make honest, reasonable decisions about how to run their country.

  • * also agrees very VERY much with James B *

  • Why don’t you just respond to the consultation then?

    I mean, for the question: Is the current earning threshold [to be allowed to have a non-British spouse join you in the UK] of £18,600 fair? If not, what would you do to change it?

    Why don’t you write: “It is not right that the state should be separating family members at all. There should be no limits on spousal visas.”

    Similarly, where it has asked: If an employer is found to be systematically employing illegal immigrants, what additional fines and penalties should be levied on such employers?

    In your answer you could put something like: “It should not be the job of employers to be enforcing the immigration system. There should be no fines for employing people illegally. We should all be citizens of the world.”

    I can’t help but feel you’ve decided to get over-excited about a fair and balanced consultation that is focusing on the laws and policies which are currently in place in this country.

  • Toby: the first person to use the phrase “true liberal” on this page is you. I have no idea what I’ve said that annoyed you, but I didn’t say “true liberal”.

  • Sue Sutherland 22nd Mar '18 - 4:35pm

    I am so glad that the immigration policy consultation has raised these points. Of course we should be advocating a system that would operate in a Lib Dem world not tinkering around with the existing system. The policy making process that Ian Sanderson outlines for some reason seems to lead to this kind of half hearted policy in most areas. I firmly agree with those who say we have little to lose, so we should show people what life would be like in our kind of world.
    With regard to immigration itself we have to persuade people out of their fear. An interesting BBC interview showed people who were against immigration agreeing that nurses, doctors, hotel workers and fruit pickers should be allowed into the country and the people they didn’t want were ‘the scroungers’. People need to hear personal stories so they can understand the appalling situations other people who have lived here for decades now find themselves in.

  • We have an aspiration that everyone in the world will have the freedom to choose where they live. It is only really practical if everywhere in the world has the same level of economic development and people will not be better off living in one country rather than another. When wide economic inequalities exist between countries freedom of movement would allow mass economic migration, which has the potential to cause social unrest. I think as a British political party we have a responsibility not to advocate policies which have the potential to cause social unrest.

    I am disappointed that we advocate that the fittest and the most ambitious be given the right to come to the UK while the majority stay behind in economic conditions below ours. A more liberal policy would be to fight the causes of economic migration and provide aid to bring the economies of other countries up to ours, so people can choose to stay in their own countries with their extended family and enjoy a standard of living equal to ours. This would benefit many more people and I think would be more liberal.

    Andy Daer is correct to point out the potential number of people who might wish to come to live and work in the UK if we had no restrictions on who could come here.

    William Wallace in a recent article – https://www.libdemvoice.org/migration-and-the-liberal-dilemma-56842.html – points out the “dilemma” for liberals of the increase global population and the pressures that drive people to wish to come here for a better life.

  • @Alex

    Whst on /earth/ makes you think the consultation is fair and balanced?

    Of course I’ll reply to it challenging it, and encourage others to do so. But I still think it is not fit for purpose, doesn’t cover its remit, doesn’t follow the Lib Dem constitution…and I believe its important to say so, because otherwise a lot of people won’t bother reading or responding since consultations are dry and I can’t expect people to be interested or knowledgeable. I think it’d be disingenuous to ask people to respond without pointing out how flawed its assumptions are.

  • Adam Bernard 22nd Mar '18 - 5:09pm

    Alex Dz: I think the consultation’s choice of questions is (deliberately or inadvertently) tending to nudge respondents to a small-c-conservative response.

    This is like saying “well, you’re free to write in your preferred candidate’s name, so why are you complaining that they’re not on the ballot paper?”

  • Ian MacFadyen 22nd Mar '18 - 5:12pm

    Hear! Hear!

  • @ Holly
    “Except last year when it was so low”

    To the year ending September 2017 according to the ONS 220,000 people migrated from the EU area and 285,000 from non-EU countries. According to the ONS 497,000 EU citizens and 185,000 from non-EU nationals registered for National Insurance numbers in the year ending December 2017 (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/internationalmigration/bulletins/migrationstatisticsquarterlyreport/february2018 ). I don’t consider these to be low figures.

    According to these figures 505,000 citizens from non-EU and EU countries migrated to the UK in the last year. This is while there are heavy restrictions on the number of people from outside the EU who can come here. It seems reasonable to assume that if there were no restrictions on people from outside the EU the 285,000 figure will increase. So it is reasonable to assume that there would be more than 600,000 people wanting to immigrate to the UK every year.

    We can have a discussion about how many people the UK can ‘cope’ with every year, but I think it is a lot less than 300,000 net migration a year these sort of figures would produce. The USA has managed to ‘cope’ with a population increase of about 11.5% a decade since 1940. I think we might find one above 5.6% a decade hard to cope with. Especially when we consider that the UK population density is 702 per mile (one of the highest in Europe) compared to 86 in the USA.

    If we had a net migration figure of 3 million a year and continued to manage the economy so that 5% of the working age population is an acceptable level of unemployment then can expect for this 1.67 million ‘acceptable figure’ to increase by between 50,000 and 150,000 every decade without taking account of the natural increase in population. I don’t consider having over one million people unemployed in the UK acceptable.

  • Toby: thanks, apology accepted – I was hoping it was a misunderstanding.

    To your substantive point, I think we’re slightly at cross purposes. I’m saying that a carefully-compromised proposal will make no waves and the vast majority of people, even if they would agree with it, will never hear what it is, whereas saying something that is beyond the current limits of polite discourse (“outside the Overton window”) will attract attention, and thus support from people who already agree with it (“natural liberals”).

    To a great extent, that’s a marketing argument – the substantive policy is unlikely to be all that different, assuming that you’re proposing a liberal immigration policy (and I will say that, having reread your comments several times, they don’t actually contain much in the way of substantive proposals on actual immigration policy) – but that I think we need to sell it in a way that is confrontational to the UKIP/Daily Mail right, rather than in a way that’s acceptable to them. I think we should seek to be attacked by the Daily Mail and Daily Express, because that is how we generate enough attention such that people who already agree with us (and that’s what I meant by “natural liberals”) will hear enough about our policies that they will even just seriously consider voting for us.

    If we were on 24% of the vote instead of 8%, then the calculation would be very different, because our policies would be reported even if they aren’t controversial. But we’re on 8% and we need to get back to a point where an unexciting Lib Dem policy will get talked about. So let’s have some exciting policies!

    Our country is deeply divided, but we can’t get into a position where we can participate in reuniting it until we are much more successful electorally. And we are, unquestionably, on one side of that divide as it stands, so let’s win over people on our side first, before we start reaching out.

  • patrick coleman 22nd Mar '18 - 11:37pm

    Liberalism: People should be free to live, work, play and retire wherever they want. There is much data (e.g. from USA, Hong Kong and indeed UK until 2016) to show greater prosperity and happiness when borders are as open as possible. There is even more data to show greater poverty and unhappiness when people are stopped from leaving or coming as they wish (e.g. Iron Curtain years, UK more recently). In short, doing the right thing in principle (allowing freedom to reign) turns out to have practical benefits too. So – whether you want to be evidence-driven or principles-driven – the answer’s the same – if you stick to Liberal principles.

  • Richard Gadsden
    I get your argument and agree that the Lib Dems need to be heard. But I just don’t think it will work, mainly because it’s not an issue the country is deeply divided on. Also the argument that it will attract natural liberals doesn’t really add up because similar arguments are also made by international socialists on the Left.
    IMO, policies that would actually appeal to natural liberals would be better focused on free speech, censorship, open government and the over use of surveillance. These are areas where liberals are traditionally very distinct from the mainstream Right and Left.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 23rd Mar '18 - 9:34am

    Thank you, Liberal Democrat Immigrants, for all that you do to campaign for the rights of immigrants, and for a more liberal immigration policy, and thank you for this article.
    I was also very disappointed by this consultation paper, and like Caron I was angry about the way the paper speaks of the supposed need for immigration policy to be “robust”, before it mentions the need to be humane. By “robust”, it seems to mean “tough”, or indeed harsh. There is very little recognition in this consultation paper of the fact that Britain’s immigration policy is already far too harsh in its treatment of anyone from outside the EU.
    The paper does speak of the need to be “fair”, but unfortunately what it seems to be advocating is “fair” only in that it is equally harsh to everyone. There is very little in this paper that is distinctively liberal.
    We should remember that the preamble to the Liberal Democrat constitution states that we believe in “the free movement of people”. The context makes it clear that this does not mean free movement just within the EU. The preamble does state that we believe in worldwide free movement.
    I think most of us would accept that worldwide free movement cannot happen immediately. But we should not forget that it is an important liberal principle, which we should be trying to move towards. Liberals believe that the individual should have complete freedom over how they choose to live their lives, and ideally this should include having complete freedom to choose where they wish to live.
    It is true that there would be practical difficulties with complete worldwide freedom of movement, and of course it would be especially difficult for one nation to introduce completely free movement, while most other nations had strict controls on immigration. But we should not loose sight of the fact that “controls on immigration” are something we would prefer to do without altogether.
    We should remember that “controls on immigration” are quite new. Before the early twentieth century, Britain basically did not have any “controls on immigration”, and allowed free movement for people from all nations.
    But in the meantime, we should be making it clear that, as a party, we want immigration to be made much easier than it is now, especially for people with the greatest need to come to Britain.

  • Bruce Milton 23rd Mar '18 - 10:20am

    #LibDemGiveMeHope
    Immigration policy is the reason LibDem support fails to muster overall support of our values and policies.
    – We need to be prepared to face into dealing with this.

    Sadly any immigration policy that does not show how some people’s base immigration fears are reduced, will not gain support and will not help promote LibDem values and policies overall.

    I am confident that our values can be put into policy that positively promotes Free Movement if this can show as the key immigration policy that;
    – UK jobs are not under threat and how the policy reflects this
    – UK benefits are not mis used and how the policy reflects this.
    – UK culture is not under threat and how the policy reflects this
    – A policy that can be shown to promote fairness inside or outside of the EU.

    What ever the questions are to create policy they need to answer the above, so that LibDem values and policies can #CreateALibDemMovement

  • Pleased to see MichaelBG adding some common sense and realism to this thread.

    Picking up on Toby’s point that ” complaints about housing…are caused by under provision by local authorities who lack taxing and spending powers; but the blame is transferred to net migration figures”

    Sounds neat, but under-provision is excess-demand’s pretty sibling. Is it not true that 85% of the UK population increase 2000-2015 was attributable to migrants and their children (doesn’t sound like no-one wants to come here, Holly!). Greater London’s population has grown by 400,000 in the last five years and 58% of births in London in 2016 were to foreign born mothers. Where do the ‘no borders’ lobby suggest we build to accommodate these additions to the UK population? And with what money?.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Mar '18 - 1:34pm

    Catherine Jane

    The basis and tone, as with the values and feeling, exemplified in you and your posting are as good as it gets, my opinion of you as high or higher than of most in our politics.

    I believe you to be wrong here in some key aspects of detail though.

    Free movement as mentioned, and that is all it is , in our constitution preamble, in my view is misinterpreted , by you , and many, throughout the EU in particular, to the detriment of the popularity of Liberal values even.

    The party was formed in the era at the conclusion of the cold war. For generations the Eastern European block, as with certain other dictatorships, did not allow people to leave their country, they called this being a defector, meaning, defective , for merely wanting to leave it. They shot you if you tried to climb the Berlin wall.

    I believe the development of freedom of movement, as theory and in practical implementation, for most people utilising this phrase, referred to the freedom to travel from and to countries, with a passport. It might mean also, freedom to apply for a visa, to visit, or a job available in exceptional situations, very specialist, or temporary. So a medical expert or a senior academic, might settle, or an actor or entertainment professional might have a short term run, in a play or to make a film. In my own field, this latter, was done with reciprocal union agreements, strict ones.

    I do not believe in , nor did most Liberals in the modern era, freedom to go to and settle automatically in some other country. I believe this as an automatic right is not Liberalism, it is laissez faire left , and , right even, libertarianism. It has nothing to do with the notion of liberty as advanced by John Stuart Mill, because he refers to harm consistently as the limit of liberty. Unmanaged immigration of the sort described and advocated by some, is harmful to immigrant and community because resources run out.Such as space.

    The movement of people is to find out things. If we find out we find love, this is an automatic right of settlement I support. Anything else, like the desire to enter anywhere new, should be by mutual agreement.

    And nineteenth century immigration , like all then, was into one of the most desparate poverty stricken countries.

  • Peter Hirst 23rd Mar '18 - 2:41pm

    Surely, one important part of any immigration policy is to reduce the desire or need to immigrate. So our immigration policy impacts on our foreign aid, defence and affairs budget. And it’s only by working with others through institutions such as NATO and the EU can we prevent conflict and so immigration.

  • @ Lorenzo Cherin

    I would like to think that when the drafters of our preamble (1987) included, “we are committed to fight poverty, oppression, hunger, ignorance, disease and aggression wherever they occur and to promote the free movement of ideas, people, goods and services” they were referring to the free movement of people as set out in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
    “(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
    (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country”. I am not sure it was so.

    However, I think we should be able to agree that the free movement of people is linked to ending poverty across the world so that the need for economic migration has ended and it is then possible and practical for the whole world to accept the free movement of people across the whole world. In the same paragraph of the preamble we talk of wanting “an equitable and peaceful international order” and the free movement of people can be seen as part of this new world order.

  • Alternatives to immigration detention are well researched and documented in Detention Action’s `Alternatives to Immigration Detention’ on the NGO’s website. UNHCR is working with the UK Home Office to look at alternatives. I have seen no published results yet but hope their aim to reduce the need for detention will succeed. Alternatives work in other EU countries and the UK should be ashamed that it is the only EU country which retains indefinite detention in prison-like centres. What is so unacceptable to our Home Office about well trained case workers working in the community with asylum seekers and other migrants , building up trusting relationships? I suggest that we make this our policy and work closely with the Detention Forum on which Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary is represented. See LD4SOS website and twitter feed for more information.

  • Personally, I’d like to see us reduce both the population of the UK and the world for environmental reasons. Overpopulation has broad support as a concern, yet no party willing to consider reducing it. Indeed, the Greens policy would see a massive shift from people from low-carbon countries into high-carbon countries, with all the ramifications that poses.

    There’s an oft-stated statistic that people that live in high-immigrant density areas are the most happiest with high-immigrant density but this concentrates only on the mass movement into an area and those that remained, not the mass movement out. It’s a self-selecting statistic. Ask those that have moved out and the answer would be completely reversed. Another self-selecting statistic.

    For people coming to this country, I would want us to balance what they are leaving from to why they are coming here. Rather than a history lesson of a test, I’d rather see a tolerance test. Do they object to the freedom to convert to atheism? Do they accept equality of women? Do they believe homosexuality is a fundamental right? This would lead to an integrated, fairer, more equal country. I also believe this would be a popular policy too. Far more popular than a laissez-faire idealistic approach that does not consider any cultural clash experienced by the host community.

    This debate is also about where we fit as a party. We are likely to see a Labour Party with far less controls on immigration, with a propensity to only consider the benefits of immigration and a Tory Party that concentrates on only the negatives. The Lib Dems should be looking to occupy the ground between Blair and Cameron, not between Corbyn and the Greens. A sensible approach to Europe. A sensible approach to immigration. A sensible approach to the environment. The centre ground. Our natural home.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 24th Mar '18 - 8:31am

    Lorenzo, thank you for your reply. I suppose the phrase “the free movement of people”, in the preamble to the constitution, is open to interpretation. But I have always understood it to mean that every individual should have the right to move freely throughout the world, with the right to live wherever they choose.
    Your interpretation of the phrase would not really be “free movement”. It is true that an important aspect of free movement is the freedom to leave one’s own country. I suppose these days we tend not to give much thought to this aspect of free movement, because the vast majority of the world’s population do now have the legal right to leave their country. But the freedom to leave one’s own country is, of course, only a real freedom if one also has the right to settle in another country.
    You suggest that “free movement” should mean the right to apply for a visa, or to apply for a job in another country in particular circumstances, perhaps on a temporary basis. But I don’t see how it can be considered to be “free movement” if your right to be in a country depends on having a particular job, or if you could be forced to leave the country when a temporary visa expired. I do believe the authors of the preamble to the constitution were thinking of true freedom of movement, and that the right to move freely around the world is an important aspect of individual freedom.
    By the way, I think John Stuart Mill would probably have believed in the right of an individual to move from one country to another. But the chances are that he did not give a great deal of thought to the subject. He would probably have taken freedom of movement for granted, because in his day there were no real “controls on immigration”, and this situation was just taken for granted by just about everyone. It is true that immigrants in Britain in Mill’s day were likely to encounter prejudice and discrimination, but hardly anyone seriously suggested that they should not have the legal right to move to Britain. The current obsession with “controls on immigration” is a modern obsession.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Mar '18 - 1:20pm

    Catherine Jane

    Ever a thoughtful piece.

    I differ.

    My view is about what was and is freedom. Freedom not merely as you say I expect, only to leave. No, to visit, to mingle, to enjoy that experience in an era of lack of freedom to leave, as mentioned, in the Soviet dominated era.

    I also think it was all well and good having a right few could afford, ie to travel worldwide in the time of Mill, now, anyone could up and leave in most countries!

    I believe in a mainstream party of the radical centre and moderate centre left. I feel this party is not now, unlike under previous leaderships, although this leader is a very mainstream one I support, steeping in to fill the gap that far left and right are making wider. I think fringe issues are not the problem. Being out of the mainstream is.

    We can have a humane and robust policy in the correct order.

  • Neil Sandison 25th Mar '18 - 1:16pm

    Janet King Agree indefinite detention serves no purpose adds to public expenditure and converts a potentially productive worker who would and could add value to the tax take into a hostile imprisoned person, it will only act as a recruiting ground for those wish to radicalise those who are detained .I would be happier to see those who wish become citizens earn that right of abode by working .or see an efficient process of return if that person is genuinely undesirable or evading criminal justice in their country of origin .

  • Another Mark 31st Mar '18 - 2:16am

    I’m bloody annoyed that I’ve only just found out about this consultation, and then by accident.

    Did they only want people attending conference to give their views on it?

  • Adam Bernard 31st Mar '18 - 7:29pm

    @Another Mark: You’re not the only person to raise that as an issue. Hopefully you’ll have time to contribute, but even if not it might be worth dropping FPC a line to suggest that they notify *all* members of policy consultations.

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