Immigration: pride over our policy, the importance of words…and a mea culpa

Embed from Getty ImagesA little while ago I was incensed with being bombarded day and night by media stories about Cameron and negotiations about benefits for EU migrants. This is a blog, at the end of the day (good blogging term there), so I blogged about it. What came out was a knee-jerk rant (“Migrants’ benefits debate is a proxy channel for xenophobia in some quarters” (the last three words being added after publication)). Some of the best blogging is based on knee-jerk rants. Not this time. On this occasion I should have been a little more careful with my words.

In the end, I raised the white flag in the ensuing debate and modified my article to emphasise that I was only talking about xenophobia “in some quarters” and that “I acknowledge that many have genuine and sincere concerns about this policy area for legitimate reasons.”

With some degree of penitence, I recognise that that post was an off-the-cuff rant. I should have used the term “dog whistle” rather than “xenophobia”. But I did stay the course by engaging politely with the comments and it resulted in a very interesting debate.

I regret that I deflected attention from the Liberal Democrat immigration policy, which is, in fact, fairly tough. We don’t say “let them all in” by any manner of means. For months I had been looking for a decent summary of our policy. Then this week, like a man with a hangover stumbling over the cat at 3am, I stumbled over this pithy summary:

Liberal Democrats believe Britain must be open for business and growth but closed to crooks and cheats. Britain needs more students and more visitors to come to help our economy grow. We will encourage people to visit Britain, learn in Britain and contribute to Britain. We will say yes to doctors, experts, entrepreneurs and investors. But we will say no to crooks, traffickers and those who would damage our country.

By bringing back proper border checks – so we know who’s coming in and leaving the UK – we will identify and deport people who over-stay their visa. We will create visible security and firm control, with real processes to count everyone in and count everyone out. No more guesswork on numbers: real evidence to catch out overstayers. We’ll ensure people can speak English and are willing to work. We’ll ensure that migrants, including from the EU, come to work or study, not to claim benefits. And when it’s time for them to leave, we will make sure they return home.

Yes, some are now going to pick holes in our policy and say it’s weak. But we are principled in that we welcome immigration but there have to be proper controls, with full exit checks, there must be deportation for over-stayers, immigrants should speak English and be willing to work, they should come here to work, not claim benefits, and should return home when it’s time for them to leave.

This is consistent with our principles and also responds to public concerns over this area.

Of course everone won’t be happy with this, but I think we can hold our heads up high on this subject.

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