Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why not listen to the voters on immigration?

The British electorate want the Government to show some resolve before it’s too late

Immigration has been back in the headlines this week, as the Government wrestles with the UK Border Agency. For large periods during the summer, individuals appear to have been allowed into the country with no checks whatsoever, meaning that we have no record of who has arrived. This was clearly wrong, and the Home Secretary was right to order an inquiry.

At heart, however, this fiasco is an issue of process. No matter how far-reaching Theresa May’s inquiry, it will leave untouched the bigger issue: namely, the sheer number of people arriving here.

A week ago, the campaign group Migrationwatch launched a new e-petition calling on the Government to take all necessary measures to keep the population below 70 million. Within a week, it had 100,000 signatures. This is a remarkable success. The public have at last been given an opportunity to express their opinion, and have done so in unmistakable terms.

It is now up to the political system to respond – not just as a democratic duty, but as a matter of common sense. The latest projections show that our population will reach that 70 million figure in just 16 years. Two thirds of the increase, equivalent to five million people, will come from future immigrants and their children. To put that in perspective, it’s the same as adding five cities the size of Birmingham, or 10 new Bristols or Manchesters.

Of course, population projections can be wrong. But the Office for National Statistics has done pretty well in the past: over the past half-century, its 20-year forecasts have been accurate to within 2.5 per cent. So we can be pretty certain that these are not freak figures. They point to a truth that must be faced. Either we bring the level of net immigration sharply down, or we accept that our population will continue to increase at a rapid rate, in the teeth of strong and growing public opposition, putting enormous pressure on our housing, schools and hospitals.

True, Scotland and Wales are not short of space. But few migrants want to settle there. England, however, is the most crowded country in Europe, alongside Holland. Barring a few small islands, the only places with a denser population are Bangladesh, South Korea, Taiwan and Lebanon. The public are very conscious of this. A recent YouGov poll found that 80 per cent of people in England considered the country to be crowded. A text poll on the BBC last Sunday found 94 per cent agreement with the proposition that “Britain is full”.

It was this public concern, as well as the weight of the evidence, that prompted us to establish in 2008 the Cross-Party Group on Balanced Migration. In calling for a sharp reduction in immigration, we absolutely accept that no step should be taken that would put at risk the recovery, on which all else depends. The measures we support would not do that.

So what are our proposals? Above all, to break the link between migration and permanent settlement. In the past, anyone with a work permit has had an almost automatic right to remain. The Government, rightly, is consulting on this issue, so that only those of real value to the country will be allowed to stay on indefinitely. The Migration Advisory Committee has suggested that such selection should be largely based on salary. That means that business will not be much affected: under the current system, transfers of staff between international firms are entirely free of restriction above a salary of £40,000. In addition, there is an annual quota of about 20,000 work permits for skilled immigrants, of which only about half have been taken up this year.

Another major weakness requiring attention is the vast number of students admitted without proper checks. In recent years, we have admitted about half a million non-EU students and student visitors with no interview at all. The scope for abuse is enormous, and must be tackled.

The Coalition has declared its intention to get net immigration down from last year’s level of nearly 250,000 to the tens of thousands. But even that will not be good enough. In order to avoid the population reaching that 70 million, we have to get immigration down to 40,000 a year or less.

That will require real political will on behalf of the Government, which sometimes seems to be stymied by the Liberal Democrats. There is little doubt that this element is blocking some of the measures needed. This is greatly puzzling. Perhaps it is time the leadership considered the vast bulk of its supporters’ views, rather than those of its activists. Successive opinion polls have shown that three quarters of potential Lib Dem voters support the Government’s stance.

What is clear – not least from this week’s drama – is that significant measures to reduce immigration take considerable time. The process of policy formation, consultation and implementation requires around 18 months – and the courts will not allow a change in conditions for those who have already arrived.

Because of this, it is important that ministers get a whole batch of tough measures approved soon. They should then look at the legal challenges and judicial reviews that are blocking voters’ wishes, and see how these can be better balanced. This is one reason why the petition is so important. It is a wake-up call for the political class: that they need to show resolve and deliver. It will now go before Parliament, and we are confident that we will secure a debate. But the more signatures it obtains before then, the louder will be the alarm bell.


Author of Arizona Immigration Law is Voted Out

In an unprecedented recall election, Arizona's State Senator and Senate President Russell Pearce, conceded defeat Tuesday. The defeat was a stunning rebuke to the author of Arizona's controversial immigration law and could serve as a warning signal to politicians who have advocated hard-line policies on immigration.

The recall vote was widely perceived as a referendum on immigration policies by both sides of the political divide. Pearce himself painted the recall advocates as liberal outsiders who were targeting him because of immigration.

Although the GOP retaines control of the Legislature, Pearce's defeat is being interpreted by Republicans as message that divisive stands on immigration and other issues are not welcome by voters.

Pearce was the author of the 2010 immigration law that put Arizona in the national spotlight and was replicated by several states around the country. The recall vote was seen by some as a referendum on the Legislature's hard-line immigration laws that Pearce has championed over the years.

Political analyst Chris Herstam, a Republican lobbyist and former legislator, said Pearce was repudiated by voters who believe the economy, jobs and education should be the first priority -- not immigration.

"The Legislature remains extremely conservative but with regards to making illegal immigration their top priority, this should be a warning shot across the bow," Herstam said.

With thousands of ballots counted and results in from all 16 precincts, charter school executive Jerry Lewis led with 53 percent of the vote, compared with about 45 percent for Pearce, a margin of about 1,800 votes. An unknown number of early ballots turned in Tuesday remained to be counted, but Pearce was resigned to defeat.

"It doesn't look like the numbers are going in my direction with this, and I'm OK with this," Pearce said Tuesday night, surrounded by Republican legislative allies, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and other supporters.

Pearce voiced determination, but no regrets. "I'm grateful for the battles that we've won," he said, adding later, "If being recalled is being the price for keeping these promises, then so be it."

Pearce was the author of the 2010 immigration law that put Arizona in the national spotlight and was replicated by several states around the country. The recall vote was seen by some as a referendum on the Legislature's hard-line immigration laws that Pearce has championed over the years.

A Pearce loss means that Lewis replaces him in the district's Senate seat and that majority Republicans would have to pick a new president to lead the legislative chamber.

Pearce accumulated a large amount of power as he rose through the ranks of the legislature to become leader of the Senate. Republicans hold more than a two-thirds advantage in the body, giving the party enough votes to easily advance its conservative agenda in GOP-dominated Arizona.

As a result, Pearce and his colleagues have taken a forceful role on conservative causes including business tax cuts, school private school vouchers, abortion limits, gun rights, union restrictions and immigration.

The recall election, forced by a petition drive, was the first for an Arizona legislator.

Recall supporters and Lewis' campaign did not emphasize the immigration issue, but it was one of the factors in the race.

"Certainly the immigration issue is important to many people including myself," Lewis said. "We need to bring a civil tone to that discussion, a professional approach to solving it, an approach that is reasonable and won't be ... in the courts for years to come."

Key provisions of the law were put on hold by a federal judge before they could be implemented, but Republican Gov. Jan Brewer is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to let it take effect.

The law's enactment gave Pearce national notice as a leading proponent of Arizona's efforts to crack down on illegal immigration. He previously won enactment of a 2007 state law requiring employers to use a federal database to check new employees' work eligibility.

However, the 2010 law led to protests and boycotts of the state, and business groups urged legislators to take a timeout on the issue and to instead push for federal action.

That opposition led the Arizona Senate last spring to dramatically reject a handful of new Pearce-backed bills on the subject.

Pearce had support from Brewer and dozens of other elected Republican officeholders, but he was dogged by disclosures that he accepted numerous free trips from the Fiesta Bowl to out-of-state college football trips. He said he took the trips at the bowl's request to help support its economic role in the state.


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