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Why the government is wrong to refuse an amnesty for illegal immigrants

An amnesty for Britain's illegal migrants has been championed by both the left and right – it's time David Cameron stopped ignoring the pragmatic and moral policy proposal.

The incomprehensible sight of a three-year-old boy washed ashore onto a beach in Turkey has belatedly led Britain to stop ignoring the refugee crisis. Yet there is another issue that cowardly British politicians ignore: the presence of over half a million illegal immigrants in the UK today.

Few of these arrived on trucks from Calais. Most illegal migrants came to the UK legally to work, but remained after their visas expired. Children of illegal migrants are here illegally too, even if they have spent every day of their lives in the UK.

The upshot is simple. There are “two categories of people in our great city, one group who live normally and another who live in the shadows unable to contribute fully to the rest of society", as Boris Johnson observed in 2009. Two years ago, he said it was “completely crazy” not to introduce an amnesty.

Indeed it is. Ridding the country of hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants would involved dragging children out of classrooms, sending many back to crisis-ridden countries where their lives would be imperilled and cost billions of pounds that the country cannot afford. Sensibly, the government is not even trying to do this. As Johnson noted two years ago: "We effectively have it [amnesty], if you've been here for more than 12 years I'm afraid the authorities are no longer prepared to pursue you, they give up."

So we already have an amnesty by another name. But because politicians are afraid to admit as much, the government is unable to benefit financially.

British taxpapers are the losers. Illegal migrants use public services but barely contribute towards them: they don't pay income tax. Introducing an amnesty would, according to a comprehensive study by the LSE in 2009, bring in a net £3bn a year to the British economy, which is why the Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi also advocates an amnesty.

To quell the shrieks of an amnesty being soft on immigration, the money raised could be used to ramp up border security; the sort of trade-off that briefly held the promise of leading to comprehensive immigration reform in the United States.

An amnesty would particularly benefit Britons in low-skilled work. It does not matter how much George Osborne trumpets his "Living Wage" while illegal migrants can be paid below the minimum wage and undercut the rest of the workforce.

But the case for an amnesty extends beyond economics. It is also be a humane thing to do. “Irregular status means vulnerability to exploitation and destitution, creating a situation in which these immigrants are more likely to be pushed into the black economy,” says Don Flynn, the Director of Migrants Rights Network. In extreme cases illegal migrants can slip into sexual exploitation and forced labour.

An amnesty would end the fear illegal immigrants face of being deported and would stop the perverse punishment of children for their parents coming to Britain illegally.

Yet not only has David Cameron described the idea of an amnesty as “terrible”, but his government has also moved even further away from one. Until 2012, illegal immigrants who had lived in the UK for 14 years could apply for indefinite leave to remain in the country; now the threshold, only applicable in “exceptional circumstances”, has been extended to 20 years.

A Home Office spokesperson lays out the government's latest approach to illegal migrants, which is far from an amnesty:

"We welcome those who wish to make a life in the UK, work hard and make a contribution – but those who come or stay here illegally are harming everyone else who plays by the rules.

"Our forthcoming Immigration Bill will create a new offence of illegal working and extend our deport-first-appeal-later approach to make it even easier to remove people who have no right to be in the UK."

It is laudable that David Lammy, a Labour candidate for London mayor, has advocated an amnesty for the 300,000 illegal migrants in the capital, joining Johnson in recognising the common sense of an amnesty for illegal migrants. But their views count for little while the mayor lacks power over visas in the capital and the government’s intransigence on the issue remains.

Britain’s apparent wish to treat desperate refugees more humanely is welcome and overdue. Yet extending more humanity to the 500,000 illegal migrants already in Britain is also long overdue. Even on crude financial grounds, Britain would benefit. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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Daniel Hannan harks back to the days of empire - the Angevin Empire

Did the benign rule of some 12th century English kings make western France vote Macron over Le Pen?

I know a fair amount about British politics; I know a passable amount about American politics, too. But, as with so many of my fellow Britons, in the world beyond that, I’m lost.

So how are we, the monolingual Anglophone opinionators of the world, meant to interpret a presidential election in a country where everyone is rude enough to conduct all their politics in French?

Luckily, here’s Daniel Hannan to help us:

I suppose we always knew Dan still got a bit misty eyed at the notion of the empire. I just always thought it was the British Empire, not the Angevin one, that tugged his heartstrings so.

So what exactly are we to make of this po-faced, historically illiterate, geographically illiterate, quite fantastically stupid, most Hannan-y Hannan tweet of all time?

One possibility is that this was meant as a serious observation. Dan is genuinely saying that the parts of western France ruled by Henry II and sons in the 12th century – Brittany, Normandy, Anjou, Poitou, Aquitaine – remain more moderate than those to the east, which were never graced with the touch of English greatness. This, he is suggesting, is why they generally voted for Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen.

There are a number of problems with this theory. The first is that it’s bollocks. Western France was never part of England – it remained, indeed, a part of a weakened kingdom of France. In some ways it would be more accurate to say that what really happened in 1154 was that some mid-ranking French nobles happened to inherit the English Crown.

Even if you buy the idea that England is the source of all ancient liberties (no), western France is unlikely to share its political culture, because it was never a part of the same polity: the two lands just happened to share a landlord for a while.

As it happens, they didn’t even share it for very long. By 1215, Henry’s youngest son John had done a pretty good job of losing all his territories in France, so that was the end of the Angevins. The English crown reconquered  various bits of France over the next couple of centuries, but, as you may have noticed, it hasn’t been much of a force there for some time now.

At any rate: while I know very little of French politics, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the similarities between yesterday's electoral map and the Angevin Empire were a coincidence. I'm fairly confident that there have been other factors which have probably done more to shape the French political map than a personal empire that survived for the length of one not particularly long human life time 800 years ago. Some wars. Industrialisation. The odd revolution. You know the sort of thing.

If Daniel Hannan sucks at history, though, he also sucks at geography, since chunks of territory which owed fealty to the English crown actually voted Le Pen. These include western Normandy; they also include Calais, which remained English territory for much longer than any other part of France. This seems rather to knacker Hannan’s thesis.

So: that’s one possibility, that all this was an attempt to make serious point; but, Hannan being Hannan, it just happened to be a quite fantastically stupid one.

The other possibility is that he’s taking the piss. It’s genuinely difficult to know.

Either way, he instantly deleted the tweet. Because he realised we didn’t get the joke? Because he got two words the wrong way round? Because he realised he didn’t know where Calais was?

We’ll never know for sure. I’d ask him but, y’know, blocked.

UPDATE: Breaking news from the frontline of the internet: 

It. Was. A. Joke.

My god. He jokes. He makes light. He has a sense of fun.

This changes everything. I need to rethink my entire world view. What if... what if I've been wrong, all this time? What if Daniel Hannan is in fact one of the great, unappreciated comic voices of our time? What if I'm simply not in on the joke?

What if... what if Brexit is actually... good?

Daniel, if you're reading this – and let's be honest, you are definitely reading this – I am so sorry. I've been misunderstanding you all this time.

I owe you a pint (568.26 millilitres).

Serious offer, by the way.

 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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