Gaby Hinsliff, Guardian (London), Jan. 23
Michael Howard will invoke the spectre of race riots today as he claims that ‘uncontrolled immigration’ is putting community relations at risk — and pledges a draconian clampdown on asylum.
Refugees would be banned from applying for asylum on British shores and forced to do so from abroad under Conservative proposals, which Howard will argue could help curb people traffickers who prey on vulnerable people.
A quota would also be slapped on how many refugee seekers Britain is prepared to take, and once the limit was reached even those with genuine claims of persecution would be rejected while similar quotas would be set on legal migration under an Australian-style points system.
The Tory leader’s decision to go on the offensive over asylum and immigration — with a newspaper advert today listing his beliefs about immigration, claiming that Britain has ‘reached a turning point’ and only his party has the ‘courage to act’ — will inevitably bring charges of playing the race card.
But the party is banking on rising anxiety over migration, particularly in marginal south-east seats, to improve its dismal standing in the polls — and help fend off the threat from the UK Independence Party, which has outspoken policies on limiting immigration.
‘Our community relations have on the whole been good, better than most other countries of our size, but they are at risk because under this government immigration is unlimited and out of control,’ Howard says in an interview to be broadcast today.
‘It’s been running at an average rate of 160,000 a year, that’s the size of Peterborough every year, and it’s forecast over the next 30 years to amount to over five million people, five times the size of Birmingham. Now I think that is going to put great strain on our community relations — and you don’t have to take it from me.
‘After the Bradford disturbances [race riots during the summer of 2001] the government set up its own community cohesion panel and it said in its report that immigration does cause strain.’
He said the Tories would introduce ‘proper 24-hour scrutiny’ of ports and speed up deportations.
The party has been badly stung by previous pledges to process all asylum seekers offshore. They led to widespread derision and taunts of a ‘fantasy island’ policy when they were unable to say where such processing would happen. Howard is expected to identify tomorrow a more detailed framework for handling asylum seekers offshore, expected to involve the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Tory aides said Howard, the son of Romanian immigrant parents, will portray the offshore proposal as a means of dissuading the desperate from paying people traffickers to smuggle them into the country, where they then lodge claims.
The government will unveil its own proposals to tighten up asylum and immigration controls early next month.