What Cameron and Brown have taken from the far right

Despite repeated calls for an “open and frank discussion” on immigration, the leaders are glossing o

Perhaps unsurprisingly, immigration was raised again at last night's second televised debate. But the discussion failed to address the nuances of a very complicated subject.

Nick Clegg -- who made the most effort to engage with some of the issues -- suggested that the estimated 500,000 people currently living here illegally should be given some kind of status so that they can be brought into the taxation system

Cameron warned that this could lead to "more claims for asylum", a worrying conflation of economic migrants and asylum-seekers.

Immigrants who come to the UK seeking work are very different from those fleeing conflict in their home countries. It is misleading to suggest that humane treatment of the latter group of individuals would lead to a flood of people seeking asylum (which, it must be noted, is a legal right).

Excluding economic migrants (a completely separate group), the numbers of people seeking asylum clearly correlates with human rights abuses in their home countries. In 2007, it was estimated that 50 per cent of asylum-seekers remaining in this country came from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe. There was a steep rise of Zimbabwean asylum-seekers in 2000, in line with increased human rights abuses.

People fleeing conflict come here because they are seeking protection and remain because they cannot return home. Before coming, they are generally unaware of the situation they will face upon arrival.

Both Brown and Cameron refused to engage with the fact that, however you look at it, there are many people living here illegally, off the radar. Brown rejected Clegg's idea (also endorsed by Boris Johnson) outright, saying that the solution was to "deport them". This hardline rhetoric betrays another gross oversimplification: after all, how exactly do you deport people when there is no official record of them? And what about the many asylum-seekers who are unable to return to their home country because it is unsafe, or logistically impossible?

Immigration is clearly an important issue in this election. But, for all the calls for an "open and frank discussion", what we have seen is a frighteningly narrow debate, pandering to the ill-informed framework established by the far right. Populist talk of immigration caps and deportation is a dangerously simplistic answer to a very complicated problem.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Workers' rights after Brexit? It's radio silence from the Tories

Theresa May promised to protect workers after leaving the EU. 

In her speech on Tuesday, Theresa May repeated her promise to “ensure that workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained".  It left me somewhat confused.

Last Friday, my bill to protect workers’ rights after Brexit was due to be debated and voted on in the House of Commons. Instead I sat and watched several Tory MPs speak about radios for more than four hours.

The Prime Minister and her Brexit Secretary, David Davis, have both previously made a clear promise in their speeches at Conservative Party conference to maintain all existing workers’ rights after Britain has left the European Union. Mr Davis even accused those who warned that workers’ rights may be put at risk of “scaremongering". 

My Bill would simply put the Prime Minister’s promise into law. Despite this fact, Conservative MPs showed their true colours and blocked a vote on it through filibustering - speaking for so long that the time runs out.

This included the following vital pieces of information being shared:

David Nuttall is on his second digital radio, because the first one unfortunately broke; Rebecca Pow really likes elephant garlic (whatever that is); Jo Churchill keeps her radio on a high shelf in the kitchen; and Seema Kennedy likes radio so much, she didn’t even own a television for a long time. The bill they were debating wasn’t opposed by Labour, so they could have stopped and called a vote at any point.

This practice isn’t new, but I was genuinely surprised that the Conservatives decided to block this bill.

There is nothing in my bill which would prevent Britain from leaving the EU.  I’ve already said that when the vote to trigger Article 50 comes to Parliament, I will vote for it. There is also nothing in the bill which would soften Brexit by keeping us tied to the EU. While I would personally like to see rights in the workplace expanded and enhanced, I limited the bill to simply maintaining what is currently in place, in order to make it as agreeable as possible.

So how can Theresa May's words be reconciled with the actions of her backbenchers on Friday? Well, just like when Lionel Hutz explains to Marge in the Simpsons that "there's the truth, and the truth", there are varying degrees to which the government can "protect workers' rights".

Brexit poses three immediate risks:

First, if the government were to repeal the European Communities Act without replacing it, all rights introduced to the UK through that piece of legislation would fall away, including parental leave, the working time directive, and equal rights for part-time and agency workers. The government’s Great Repeal Bill will prevent this from happening, so in that sense they will be "protecting workers’ rights".

However, the House of Commons Library has said that the Great Repeal Bill will leave those rights in secondary legislation, rather than primary legislation. While Britain is a member of the EU, there is only ever scope to enhance and extend rights over and above what had been agreed at a European level. After Brexit, without the floor of minimum rights currently provided by the EU, any future government could easily chip away at these protections, without even the need for a vote in Parliament, through what’s called a "statutory instrument". It will leave workers’ rights hanging by a thread.

The final change that could occur after we have left the EU is European Court rulings no longer applying in this country. There are a huge number of rulings which have furthered rights and increased wages for British workers - from care workers who do sleep-in shifts being paid for the full shift, not just the hours they’re awake; to mobile workers being granted the right to be paid for their travel time. These rulings may no longer have legal basis in Britain after we’ve left. 

My bill would have protected rights against all three of these risks. The government have thus far only said how they will protect against the first.

We know that May opposed the introduction of many of these rights as a backbencher and shadow minister; and that several of her Cabinet ministers have spoken about their desire to reduce employment protections, one even calling for them to be halved last year. The government has even announced it is looking at removing the right to strike from transport workers, which would contradict their May’s promise to protect workers’ rights before we’ve even left the EU.

The reality is that the Conservatives have spent the last six years reducing people’s rights at work - from introducing employment tribunal fees which are a barrier to justice for many, to their attack on workers’ ability to organise in the Trade Union Act. A few lines in May’s speech doesn’t undo the scepticism working people have about the Tories' intentions in this area. Until she puts her money where her mouth is, nor should they. 

Melanie Onn is the Labour MP for Great Grimsby.