Nick Clegg calls for restrictions on immigration into UK
Deputy prime minister abandons key Liberal Democrats pledge to illegal immigrants
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg taking questions from journalists after making a speech on immigration in London yesterday. Photograph: Getty Images
Immigration restrictions must be introduced in the UK, British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has said, in the latest attempt by a leading politician to soothe public concerns.
His move comes just days before British prime minister David Cameron is due to make a major speech on the issue, which has come to the forefront in the wake of mounting support for the UK Independence Party.
Mr Clegg began his tactical change on immigration by abandoning one of the Liberal Democrats’ key 2010 manifesto pledges, which would have offered illegal immigrants an opportunity to get residence papers.
“We called it an earned route to citizenship. Our opponents dubbed it an ‘amnesty’,” Mr Clegg said.
“It was seen by many people as a reward for those who have broken the law.
“So it risked undermining public confidence in the immigration system – the very public confidence that is essential to a tolerant and open Britain.”
Visitors from “high-risk” countries should now be forced to lodge a £1,000 (€1,172) bond repayable when they leave – a policy that threatens to inflame opinion, particularly in India.
The proposal is a variation of one put forward this month by Conservative home secretary Theresa May, who suggested the bond would be repaid only if the visitor had not used British health or social services.
“For a diverse society like ours to function successfully, for different groups to integrate and co-exist, British citizens must believe that the rules by which migrants come and settle here are reasonable, just and properly enforced,” Mr Clegg said.
Immigration to the UK has fallen by a third since the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came to office, but critics argue that policy is becoming increasingly incoherent.
Restrictions were placed on language schools, whose students often disappeared within days of their arrival, but the measures have made it difficult for highly qualified foreign graduates to stay on after study.
Critical of the push by the Conservatives to keep net immigration below 100,000, Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable said it was not government policy and would do “enormous damage” if achieved.