Queen’s speech to focus on immigration
Proposed curbs likely to be in response to UKIP election gains
Former British chancellor of the exchequer Nigel Lawson has called for Britain to quit the European Union. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Major changes to immigration laws in the United Kingdom, which will try to make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to remain, will form the core of the British government’s legislation plans to be published today.
The tone of the detail of the plans for the next year, to be announced by Queen Elizabeth II in the House of Lords today, will be carefully analysed for evidence that British politics is changing in response to the growing support for the UK Independence Party.
On the eve of the Queen’s speech, senior Conservatives, led by former chancellor of the exchequer Lord Lawson, demanded that the UK leave the European Union, though there are differing opinions about whether a referendum on membership is needed immediately or in 2017.
A new bill will tighten immigration laws, strengthen enforcement powers and clamp down “on those from overseas who abuse our public services”, sources in No 10 Downing Street said last night.
Under the changes, the government wants judges to order the removal of convicted immigrants on their release – many of whom managed to avoid deportation because they claim rights to family life.
Ministers want to ensure that the rights, enshrined under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, are “not abused so courts balance the crime committed against the right to remain in the country”, sources said.
Meanwhile, landlords could face fines running into thousands of pounds if they rent properties to illegal immigrants, while curbs will also be placed even on legal migrants’ rights to free health care under the National Health Service.
In addition, ministers are to consult on tougher new penalties against employers that use illegal labour, including more substantial fines, though the lack of immediate changes will annoy many who voted for UKIP in last week’s local elections.
Elsewhere, ministers continue to press for changes to welfare rules to limit rights to benefits to six months for EU citizens and those from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norwayif they do not actively seek work and show that they have a genuine chance of getting a job.
Meanwhile, people will have to have lived in an area for between two and five years before they will be able to apply for a local authority home, while people will have to have lived legally in the UK for a year before they will be able to claim free legal aid.
Insisting that it has cut the number of immigrants by a third since 2010, Downing Street insisted last night: “We want to attract people who will add to our national life and those who will not should be deterred.”
Politicians of all hues, but especially those in the Conservative Party, have been concerned by the performance of Ukip in last week’s elections, which gives it a realistic prospect of Commons seats in the 2015 elections if it establishes itself properly over the next two years.
Marking the coalition’s need to re-engage with voters, today’s Queen’s speech will see the listing of legislation that will cap nursing home costs so that the elderly do not have to sell their homes to pay for their care.
In addition, small employers – a particular constituency for the Conservatives – will be targeted by a deregulation bill which promises to cut “unnecessary red tape and burdens that can make life difficult for small businesses’.
However, today’s legislative list will not bow to demands from many Conservatives MPs that legislation needed to hold the referendum on EU membership promised by David Cameron should be passed immediately.
In his speech in January, Mr Cameron promised a membership referendum by late 2017/early 2018, though the legislation needed to hold it would not be put to the House of Commons until after the next general election.
Even though he has not held political office for 20 years, Lord Lawson’s decision yesterday to call for a UK exit from the EU has complicated Mr Cameron’s life, since it was seized upon by those who would not normally regard him as a fellow-traveller.
The EU has “changed completely” since he was chancellor of the exchequer, particularly with the creation of the euro: “That requires a much more tightly-knit (Union), a much greater degree of political union.
“Indeed, I think ultimately it will require complete political union and that is not something I, or indeed the United Kingdom, has ever wished for,” said Lord Lawson, who, quit over divisions with Margaret Thatcher over the Exchange Rate Mechanism .