In praise of Iain Duncan Smith

The former Tory leader might not be right on marriage – but he should still be listened to.

Iain Duncan Smith has undergone one of the most comprehensive rebrandings in modern politics. He was an abysmal failure as Conservative Party leader. But instead of heading for the lucrative speaking circuit or the City to lick his wounds, the "quiet man" went to some of the most challenging parts of our country.

He was determined to find out why, in a highly developed nation like ours, so many people struggle to get out of the poverty they are born into.

When he speaks as Work and Pensions Secretary, I am minded to think positively and listen with an open mind. The Lib Dem minister for pensions, Professor Steve Webb, said that he was learning to not have a "knee-jerk" reaction to Conservative policies within that department.

I am not alone in thinking one should have an open mind when IDS speaks. One of the most fascinating blogs of last year was by the former general secretary of the Labour Party Peter Watt, who said:

Take the example of welfare policy. Listen to Labour and the assumption is that IDS wants to punish the poor, somehow that he gets off on increasing vulnerable people's suffering. What we don't think is that he wants to improve the lives of the poor but just doesn't think that the current incarnation of the welfare state is the best way to achieve this.

I agree with Peter. I believe that IDS genuinely wants to improve people's lives.

IDS believes there is a need for muscular rhetoric when it comes to the issue of marriage. In a speech today, he will say:

Over the years the political establishment has frowned if a mainstream politician mentions marriage. The prevailing view was that to extol the virtues of this most fundamental institution somehow meant that you were going to stigmatise those who were not married. This is an absurd and damaging assumption. Government must understand the effect that family breakdown can have on the well-being of both adults and children.

Tough words, but then read the detail outlined here in the Telegraph.

None of the policy substance is about tax breaks for married couples. Instead it is all about helping couples to stay together: a service available to all, and not just married, couples.

It reminds me of the Work and Pensions Secretary's predecessor Peter Lilley, a cabinet member in Margaret Thatcher's government whose right-wing rhetoric sent the flag-waving blue-rinse ladies at Conservative party conference into paroxysms of delight. Back in Whitehall, however, he was seen by many of his civil servants as one of the more reasonable ministers.

To me, as a Liberal Democrat, IDS's rhetoric on marriage is unappealing. The idea of financial incentives for people to get married is from a different age. But failing to look at the detail of his proposals would be disrespectful to the time, effort and dedication he has expended to overcome a critical problem in the UK today.

Tax incentives for marriage may be a goal for IDS – but they will not become reality for some time. He will beef up the talk, but the advice and assistance will be aimed at all couples, not just married couples.

Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May's offer to EU citizens leaves the 3 million with unanswered questions

So many EU citizens, so little time.

Ahead of the Brexit negotiations with the 27 remaining EU countries, the UK government has just published its pledges to EU citizens living in the UK, listing the rights it will guarantee them after Brexit and how it will guarantee them. The headline: all 3 million of the country’s EU citizens will have to apply to a special “settled status” ID card to remain in the UK after it exist the European Union.

After having spent a year in limbo, and in various occasions having been treated by the same UK government as bargaining chips, this offer will leave many EU citizens living in the UK (this journalist included) with more questions than answers.

Indisputably, this is a step forward. But in June 2017 – more than a year since the EU referendum – it is all too little, too late. 

“EU citizens are valued members of their communities here, and we know that UK nationals abroad are viewed in the same way by their host countries.”

These are words the UK’s EU citizens needed to hear a year ago, when they woke up in a country that had just voted Leave, after a referendum campaign that every week felt more focused on immigration.

“EU citizens who came to the UK before the EU Referendum, and before the formal Article 50 process for exiting the EU was triggered, came on the basis that they would be able to settle permanently, if they were able to build a life here. We recognise the need to honour that expectation.”

A year later, after the UK’s Europeans have experienced rising abuse and hate crime, many have left as a result and the ones who chose to stay and apply for permanent residency have seen their applications returned with a letter asking them to “prepare to leave the country”, these words seem dubious at best.

To any EU citizen whose life has been suspended for the past year, this is the very least the British government could offer. It would have sounded a much more sincere offer a year ago.

And it almost happened then: an editorial in the Evening Standard reported last week that Theresa May, then David Cameron’s home secretary, was the reason it didn’t. “Last June, in the days immediately after the referendum, David Cameron wanted to reassure EU citizens they would be allowed to stay,” the editorial reads. “All his Cabinet agreed with that unilateral offer, except his Home Secretary, Mrs May, who insisted on blocking it.” 

"They will need to apply to the Home Office for permission to stay, which will be evidenced through a residence document. This will be a legal requirement but there is also an important practical reason for this. The residence document will enable EU citizens (and their families) living in the UK to demonstrate to third parties (such as employers or providers of public services) that they have permission to continue to live and work legally in the UK."

The government’s offer lacks details in the measures it introduces – namely, how it will implement the registration and allocation of a special ID card for 3 million individuals. This “residence document” will be “a legal requirement” and will “demonstrate to third parties” that EU citizens have “permission to continue to live and work legally in the UK.” It will grant individuals ““settled status” in UK law (indefinite leave to remain pursuant to the Immigration Act 1971)”.

The government has no reliable figure for the EU citizens living in the UK (3 million is an estimation). Even “modernised and kept as smooth as possible”, the administrative procedure may take a while. The Migration Observatory puts the figure at 140 years assuming current procedures are followed; let’s be optimistic and divide by 10, thanks to modernisation. That’s still 14 years, which is an awful lot.

To qualify to receive the settled status, an individual must have been resident in the UK for five years before a specified (although unspecified by the government at this time) date. Those who have not been a continuous UK resident for that long will have to apply for temporary status until they have reached the five years figure, to become eligible to apply for settled status.

That’s an application to be temporarily eligible to apply to be allowed to stay in the UK. Both applications for which the lengths of procedure remain unknown.

Will EU citizens awaiting for their temporary status be able to leave the country before they are registered? Before they have been here five years? How individuals will prove their continuous employment or housing is undisclosed – what about people working freelance? Lodgers? Will proof of housing or employment be enough, or will both be needed?

Among the many other practicalities the government’s offer does not detail is the cost of such a scheme, although it promises to “set fees at a reasonable level” – which means it will definitely not be free to be an EU citizen in the UK (before Brexit, it definitely was.)

And the new ID will replace any previous status held by EU citizens, which means even holders of permanent citizenship will have to reapply.

Remember that 140 years figure? Doesn’t sound so crazy now, does it?

0800 7318496