March 16, 2010
The Liberal Democrats immigration policy sounds tough but, in reality, is no better than the government’s "open door immigration policy" that has seen the biggest wave of immigration in our history, says a new report
The policy was the first of the major parties to be scrutinised in detail by think-tank Migrationwatch as the parties set out their stalls for the upcoming general election.
‘The Lib Dems realise that this is an issue of deep public concern which could well affect the way people vote,’ said Sir Andrew Green, Migrationwatch chairman. ‘They therefore want to give the impression of proposing firm and decisive action - but, sadly this is entirely hollow. For all their tough talk, their policies will make little or no difference to the numbers coming to the UK’, he said.
The paper summarised Liberal Democrat policies as having three main strands - an emphasis on "control", a scheme for directing immigration to certain regions and support for illegal immigrants to be allowed to "earn regularisation".
The word "control" is popular with focus groups but the Liberal Democrat call for immediate re-instatement of border controls is superfluous. E-borders are already being introduced and should achieve 95% coverage by the end of the year.
Regional immigration - directing immigrants to specific areas of the UK - is an attractive idea at first sight but does not survive examination. The concept that immigrants can be directed to a particular area, such as Scotland, and can then somehow be forced to stay there as “post code prisoners” is completely unenforceable in Britain. Local authorities have no powers to dictate where people should live - nor does the central government. The only possibility would be to deport those who were found to be in breach of their immigration conditions. For this to work they would have to be detected (unlikely) and then removed. The removal process is notorious for opportunities for delay. Quite apart from that, opinion polling has shown that 72% of Scots are opposed to the idea. 
The third main strand of Liberal Democrat policy is "earned regularisation" - a euphemism for an amnesty where people are, in effect, rewarded for breaking the law. The paper quotes the example of Spain where there have been six amnesties in the last 25 years. The number of applicants there went from 44,000 for the first amnesty to 700,000 for the most recent one. 
There is no reason to suppose that something similar would not happen here if Britain were to offer what amounts to an amnesty in all but name.
Said Sir Andrew: ‘This is pure sound-bite territory. As an immigration policy it would be disastrous - utterly contrary to widespread and strongly held public opinion. It would simply store up trouble for the future as our island became ever more crowded. The public have of course seen through this. A recent poll found that only 5% thought that the Liberal Democrats had the best policies on controlling immigration. Even among those intending to vote Lib Dem only 14% favoured their policies while 9% preferred Labour policies and 40% thought that Conservative policies on this issue were best.’ 
NOTE TO EDITORS: The Migrationwatch report is issued on the eve of a "Flagship speech" on immigration by their Home Affairs spokesman, Chris Huhne." (16 March at the Policy Exchange.)
1. Cello MRUK poll for the Sunday Times published on 29 August 2009
2. Home Office on-line report 58/04 Table 5.1
3. CATI poll for the News of the World published on 7 March.