Wednesday 3 July 2013
Wither amnesty for illegal immigrants?
I think it was in the first of the Party Leaders' debates before the last election that Nick Clegg so courageously advanced our Liberal Democrat policy of an amnesty for a carefully defined group of illegal immigrants. Again and again he countered the populist opportunism of Cameron and Brown, who wanted, if not to hang, draw and quarter them, at least to deport them with the utmost dispatch. Apart from the merits of the case: "How are you going to find them?" he repeatedly asked.
This was the debate which gained Clegg so much kudos that one party "senior" declared: "He walks on water." How times change.
Clegg took pains to define carefully the immigrants who should qualify for amnesty. If I remember correctly they should have been here a number of years, be in employment, have paid their taxes, and, apart from being here illegally, have not gained a criminal record.
This is a robust, sensible, practical and humane policy. It made me proud to be a Liberal and to have a leader prepared to fight so publicly and persuasively for a policy which the other two parties and the tabloids would not hesitate to deride.
It is therefore with sadness and acute disappointment that I learn the policy has been ditched. According to a report of press conference held earlier this week;
(Nick Clegg) said that he did not agree with Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi's call for an amnesty for illegal immigrants. The Lib Dems used to be in favour of such a policy, but they recently dropped the idea, he said. That was because the government had made a lot of progress closing loopholes in the immigration system.
The excuse given in the last sentence is a bit feeble, given that the immigrants to whom our policy would have granted asylum were meant to have been here a number of years - rather longer than any "progress in closing loopholes" the government might have made in its modest three years of office.
I have the greatest respect for Nick Clegg. I do not believe he is an opportunist simply interested in power. No one would join the Liberal Democrats if that were their priority. Indeed I understand that Nick was virtually offered a safe Tory seat whilst working for Leon Britten, then one of the UK's EU Commissioners. Were he motivated by a lust for office he would have taken it, rather than the much harder road of holding a Liberal Democrat seat.
I can only suppose he is being badly advised: by some party apparatchik who is more interested in the findings of focus groups than in Liberal Democrat principles.