Annual Policy Review 2015


Immigration

Immigration


1AchievedAchieved

  • Restrictions on EU immigrants claiming benefits straight after arrival
  • Measures to deter ‘health tourism’, including charging non-EU patients 150% of the cost of NHS treatment
  • Streamlining the appeals system to speed up the removal of illegal immigrants


1More-to-doMore to do

  • Reduce net immigration to under 100,000, as promised in 2010
  • Reform the EU’s immigration rules
  • Regain the electorate’s trust on immigration issues


1UnexpectedThe unexpected

  • The extent of UKIP’s success and their resulting influence over policy
  • The resignation of immigration minister, Mark Harper following the revelation that his cleaner did not have permission to work in the UK
  • New powers to strip citizenship from naturalised British terror suspects


LegacyLegacy

  • The establishment of net migration as a benchmark to measure immigration
  • The extent to which UKIP can dominate the political agenda and stoke public concerns about immigration
  • Restrictions on EU immigrants’ access to benefits

 


 

 

Over the course of 2014, the Government repeatedly struggled with the politics of its immigration policy.

The year began with the lifting of work restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian migrants, and has ended with the Prime Minister announcing new rules to curb the rights of migrants in Britain.

At the outset of the coalition, the Conservative Party committed to reducing net migration to ‘tens of thousands’ a year by 2015. However, it became clear in mid-2014 that this target would be missed, prompting Home Secretary Theresa May to water down the proposal to a longer-term goal.

A few months after Mrs May’s comments, the ONS revealed that net migration had surged to more than double the Government’s target.

To add to the Government’s troubles, immigration policy has long been a bone of contention between the Coalition partners. The net migration target was written into the Home Office business plan back in May 2010, but it was not in the Coalition agreement, meaning the Liberal Democrats never formally signed up to it. Business Secretary Vince Cable has been particularly critical, branding the target meaningless, impossible to enforce and ‘ludicrous’ in principle.

The issue facing Mr Cameron is that freedom of movement rules place EU immigration (which accounts for around half of total immigration) beyond the Government’s control. As such, the Government must content itself with trying to curb immigration indirectly by altering the rules on welfare benefits, such as housing benefit and tax credits – believing this will make the UK a less attractive option. The Prime Minister’s alternative is convincing his EU partners to introduce conditions to the freedom of movement principle – a proposal which has been met with little warmth.

The success of UKIP has been the most influential factor in hardening the Government’s stance on immigration. For each UKIP triumph, from the European elections to the recent byelection, the Government has ramped up its rhetoric.

This began in January with Iain Duncan Smith’s proposal that housing benefit would no longer be available to migrants claiming jobseeker’s allowance. It continued with Jeremy Hunt’s pledge to charge non-EU patients 150% of the cost of NHS treatment, and was swiftly followed by the announcement that EU migrants will only be able to claim jobseeker’s allowance for three months, down from the six-month limit that came in to force just four months previously.

There followed the Prime Minister’s long-anticipated announcement that new EU immigrants must wait four years before they are entitled to in-work benefits. While Mr Cameron’s speech was less radical than expected, there can be no doubt that it was intended to neutralise the threat of UKIP following their victory in Rochester & Strood.

It is thanks to UKIP that the need for EU reform is now entirely bound up with the issue of immigration. As Mr Cameron declared in October ‘at the heart of EU renegotiation we need to address people’s concerns about immigration.’

This presents a particular problem for Mr Cameron given what an extraordinarily divisive issue Europe is within the Conservative party. There are clear and largely irreconcilable differences of opinion between Mr Cameron’s socially liberal end of the party, and their counterparts sitting much further to the right.

Much to the dismay of party strategists, there is every possibility that party members could indeed spend a large proportion of the next five months ‘banging on about Europe’. This is increasingly possible now that marginal MPs worry about campaigns by UKIP candidates in their constituencies, while those at the top worry about how to prevent further MPs breaking rank.

Either way, the lasting immigration legacy of the Coalition Government’s time in office will be largely down to how they choose to perceive, and react to, the threat from UKIP.