Author: Russell Hargrave
The policy paper produced by our party’s Immigration Working Group has stirred a lot of comment on these pages. Quite right too. Lib Dem Voice is, after all, where we come to meet and talk about the things we care about most.
I am proud to sit on that working group, from a background first as a Lib Dem caseworker, helping thousands of constituents who been poorly served by our immigration system, and then at a small refugee charity.
I had thought about writing a piece rebutting some of the criticisms the paper has received. But I know how emotive this issue is – the comments below recent articles are proof of that – and I don’t think our interests are served by rehashing those arguments here. Instead, I want to spend a few moments outlining some of the things I love about the paper.
I am pleased to be member of a political party where it is possible to write a paper such as this in the first place. Credit should go to two groups in particular, Lib Dem Immigrants and Lib Dem Seekers of Sanctuary, for their patient assistance throughout this process and their own policy proposals. They brought expertise and experience to the committee, and we were delighted to adopt the majority of their proposals.
I don’t believe our immediate political rivals would have allowed a paper with such a progressive vision to see the light of day in the first place. They would have been too scared about alienating loud and immovable members of the right-wing press.
Can you imagine the Conservatives or Labour, as they both pursue Brexit and a hostile environment for our EU colleagues and neighbours, uniting behind a paper which says:
No-one should be enslaved for life by where they were born in the world. From the millions of British people who live and work elsewhere in the world, to the millions of migrants contributing to our country today, the movement of people across the world has worked to enrich the lives of everyone – including those who have chosen to stay put.
I can’t. This is the most progressive set of immigration policies put forward by a political party in modern times.
The core principle of this paper is treating people with dignity. That is an easy concept to pay lip service to, but we are backing it with policies.
We will end the routine detention of asylum seekers and irregular migrants, for example, and allow them to live in their communities until their appeals are successful or exhausted. We have committed to closing eight of the ten detention centres in the UK, which goes further than anyone asked us to.
The remaining two centres will be used simply as a back-stop for people who abscond or refuse to leave. I would love to think these centres will remain empty, standing as barren testimony to a failed and unnecessary regime of the past, but even those people who are taken there will in all likelihood find themselves staying no more than a night or two.
We would also completely reverse the stupid and damaging approach the Conservative government has taken to international students. This wouldn’t be a country which rejected bright students from overseas, we would go out of our way to attract them here. Students would be encouraged to come, to feel at home in their communities, and to contribute to the economy.
Theresa May took aim at international students time and again, in a futile attempt to meet her self-defeating immigration targets. We would immediately end this approach.
The paper is full of sound, liberal policies like these. No more arbitrary caps stopping the NHS recruiting the doctors and nurses it needs. No more inflated costs which stop children getting the British citizenship they need. And major overhauls to asylum policy, which I know the party will write about more in the near future.
The spirit of debate is one of the things I love most about the Lib Dems, and it is sure to continue to conference next month. This immigration paper will be up for debate, and there is much to celebrate.
* Russell Hargrave was a constituency caseworker for Jenny Willott MP in Cardiff Central until 2010, and worked in the immigration charity sector for several years.