Boris shows himself to be more liberal than Nick on immigration

by Stephen Tall on July 2, 2013

Typing that headline pained me. But it’s true, at least on the issue of an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Compare and contrast…

Here’s what London Mayor Boris Johnson said today on his LBC call-in show today:

“We should have an amnesty. We’ve got people who’ve got in here illegally. They are not engaged with the economy and being honest with the system.”

And here’s how Nick casually dumped the party’s policy three months ago:

… it was seen by many people as a reward for those who have broken the law. And so it risked undermining public confidence in the immigration system. The very public confidence that is essential to a tolerant and open Britain. That is why I am no longer convinced this specific policy should be retained in our manifesto for the next General Election.

As I wrote at the time:

… ditching the Lib Dems’ earned route to amnesty because our opponents label it ‘soft’ is weak leadership: yes, I’ve no doubt the Lib Dems took an electoral hit for putting it forward, that it helped deflate ‘Cleggmania’ in 2010. But instead of walking away from a sound policy — one being pursued by both Democrats and Republicans in the USA — we should be making the case for it, building alliances with sensible Tory and Labour politicians (they do exist).

There are at least two Tories we now know the Lib Dems could be building an alliance with: not only Boris, but also Nadhim Zahawi. Well it’s a start. I’m sure there must be Labour MPs too who recognise the absurdity of the current policy of pretending the problem of long-term illegal immigrants forced to keep on living in the shadows doesn’t exist.

I’ve heard it said by more than one senior Lib Dem that the amnesty policy cost the party half-a-million votes at the last election. Even accepting that figure’s true, there remains a simple fact: it’s the right policy. Clearly we’ve failed to explain it adequately. And there will be many people for whom it is unexplainable. But run away from the right policy because it’s unpopular? No thanks.

I remember when I nominated Boris Johnson as my CentreForum Liberal Hero for his sane words on immigration (he’d urged the Government to “allow the best and brightest to come here, contribute and thrive”) kopping some flak from some Lib Dems for doing so.

But when it comes to immigration, I’m afraid the reality is you’ll more often find Boris showing liberal leadership than Nick.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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