Cameron gives ground to worried rank and file

Commitments on international aid and anti-smoking measures dropped

British prime minister David Cameron has been accused of shifting British politics sharply to the right with plans to restrict rights enjoyed by immigrants.

The immigration bill was the central pillar of the government's legislative programme for the next year, announced in just nine minutes by Queen Elizabeth in the Lords yesterday morning – one of the shortest ever Queen's speeches.

Under the plan, doctors will be expected to check the immigration status of patients before offering treatment, while landlords will be fined if they let properties to illegal immigrants, though both measures could be difficult to implement.

The Queen’s speech was written before last week’s gains by the UK Independence Party in the local elections, but it is clearly designed to soothe the British public’s fears on issues such as immigration and crime, which have been concentrated upon by UKIP.


Ministers have promised to force temporary visitors to the UK to pay for medical treatment, ban illegal immigrants from applying for driving licences, while firms who hire them will face draconian fines. With little to say on the UK’s economy’s problems, the legislative programme has been heavily influenced by the Conservatives’ new election guru, Australian Lynton Crosby, who has used right-wing, so-called “dog-whistle” politics before to attract support.

“The main benefits of the Bill would be (to stop) immigrants accessing services they are not entitled to and (to make) it easier to remove people from the UK and harder for people to prolong their stay with spurious appeals,” said an official briefing paper.

Foreigners guilty of committing serious crimes in the UK “shall, except in extraordinary circumstances, be deported” and they are to be denied permission to stay, ministers hope, even if they have fathered children in the UK, though it is not clear how this can be done.

In a direct message to judges, the immigration bill would “give the full force of legislation” to rules already in place and that “the courts would therefore be required to properly reflect the balance given to the public interest when ruling”.

Following last week’s poor election results, Mr Cameron has had to concede ground to increasingly restive Conservative backbenchers by dropping plans to make international aid commitments a legal obligation, along with proposals to ban branded cigarette packets.

Equally, he has had to give the Conservative whip back to MP Nadine Dorries, who lost it after she went to Australia to appear on I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! because of fears that she would defect to Ukip if she was not brought quickly back into the fold.

On immigration, the Royal College of General Practitioners' head, Dr Clare Gerada, said doctors must not be forced into a position where they become an unofficial arm of the UK Border Agency, the immigration body soon to come under the full control of the Home Office.

“The health system must not be abused and we must bring an end to health tourism, it is important that we do not overestimate the problem and that GPs are not placed in the invidious position of being the new border agency,” she said.

Forcing landlords to check immigrants' legal status will allow for greater exploitation of those that are in Britain, some warned, while human rights group, Liberty said the coalition is 'effectively contracting-out immigration control to private individuals'.

The trade union Unison's general secretary, Dave Prentis, condemned the plans: "It a typical Tory tactic to distract attention from the real problems we face by fostering a 'blame immigrants' culture, instead of tackling the huge divide between the rich and the poor."

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is Ireland and Britain Editor with The Irish Times