Updates, commentary, training and advice on immigration and asylum law

A poor immigration history


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Today seems an auspicious day to examine Labour’s recent immigration history.

At first glance it may appear that Labour has been generous on immigration policy in recent times. In some respects this is right. Immigration has certainly increased since 1997. As Don Flynn wrote so perceptively in 2002 in Tough As Old Boots, though, migration is for Labour merely an aspect of economic policy. The title of the 2006 White Paper said it all: Making Migration Work For Britain.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with seeing immigration in macro economic terms. Philippe Legrain’s work is very interesting, for example. The problem is that for the Labour Government, this is all migrants are: tools of economic policy. By failing to see immigrants as actual human beings, Ministers and civil servants have made the mistake of Enoch Powell in the 1950s. At a time of shortage of labour, he was happy to recruit nurses from abroad. He didn’t see or understand that having emigrated to a new country and a new life, they would not want to go home. Migrants aren’t just pawns of policy, they are human beings. They have rights and expectations, which include being treated humanely and fairly. Being encouraged to come to and settle in the UK under one set of rules and then later being told that they are surplus to requirements is not humane nor is it fair. Neither is being treated like cattle as an asylum seeker then later being welcomed as a recognised refugee.

As with examining children, management in the NHS, ID cards, tax credits and all the other facets of the massive growth in state bureaucracy since 1997, the immigration department (first the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, then the Border and Immigration Agency, now the UK Border Agency – the evolution of the department title tells its own story) is bureaucratic and lacks humanity. It depends on petty, sometimes ridiculous rules set by Ministers and too many staff lose sight of the impact of their actions on the real person behind the paperwork.

On the positive side of the scales, though, we have the Human Rights Act, the extension of legal aid to cover immigration and asylum appeals and sporadically generous integration policy. These now strike me as being oversights, the implications of which were not understood by the Government at the time. There has certainly been considerable retrenchment.

What will happen after today’s voting? Whoever is in charge, it doesn’t look good.

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The Free Movement blog was founded in 2007 by Colin Yeo, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers specialising in immigration law. The blog provides updates and commentary on immigration and asylum law by a variety of authors.


10 Responses

  1. “There is nothing necessarily wrong with seeing immigration in macro economic terms.”
    -It would be wrong if we see immigration ONLY in macro economic terms.

    “the massive growth in state bureaucracy since 1997” – a result of Labour’s manifesto, “Regulation, regulation, regulation.”

    Was it Datsun who changed their name to Nissan to shed its rusty image. cf IND, BIA, UKBA.

    “On the positive side … we have the Human Rights Act” – positive for who? lawyers. Many observe the HRA as something that is out-of-reach for good citizens, but available for criminals. The way the HO handles Art.8 cases could be a good example of this.

    1. Positive for humans. Torture demeans and degrades us all. Protection must be absolute to be meaningful. Protecting only ‘good’ people from torture is meaningless.

  2. The HRA was only ever intended as part 1 of a bill of rights. Sadly part 2 never developed. Just because ‘many observe’ the HRA as something bad doesn’t make it true. The UK, when compared to the rest of Europe actually protects individuals through its own legislation pretty well – race relations, disability, anti-discrimination. Human Rights legislation should only ever ‘kick in’ as and when an individual is threatened by the State, therefore the average Joe on the street will not feel the affect of it directly.

    It protects the vulnerable, that should not be forgotten.

    1. This is good to read. Good luck with your new employers! I would guess measures like scrapping the HRA will have to take a back seat now. I hope so, anyway.

    2. She is a bit unpleasant and right wing. Ken Clarke at Justice and Dominic Grieve as Attorney General are about as good as it could get there, though.

    3. My parents’ MP to boot – so have endured her at school speech days in the past….!

  3. I think the point I tried to flag up in ‘Tough as old Boots’ is likely to remain under a Tory administration – since immigration is so closely integrated with economic policy the direction taken by any government, Labour or Tory, is bound to be erratic, generating numerous paradoxes and tensions.

    If a Cameron administration survives for any time it will be buffeted by myriad factors which prevent it from holding the line in any coherent direction. The interests of big corporates for global mobility will limit the options for the sort of cap that is likely to satisfy his own wild fringe, and the need to do deals with the EU big hitters will keep the free movement of EU citizens open. The return to a relatively stable period of apparent success in managing migration, such as was achieved from 1973 to the mid 1990s, is not going to happen under a Cameron government.

    Migration is set to continue in numbers which the tabloids will use to spread alarm and despondency ‘amongst the servants’, and it will fall to progressives to articulate policies which link the promotion of rights to policy coherence and outcomes most likely to secure a degree of equality. To do this we should be aiming to move beyond the traditional conception of human rights, and start arguing about the need to protect the social, economic and political rights of migrants, and the rest of us, as well.

    1. Thanks, Don. This evening events should be interesting, as I’d assume the Lib Dems will not vote for anything as crass as a cap on immigration. Another factor to buffet the new Prime Minister…

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