Gordon Brown faced mounting pressure yesterday from three of his potential deputies to consider an amnesty on illegal immigrants.
The Prime Minister-in-waiting was warned that once identity cards were introduced, ministers would no longer be able to ignore Britain’s estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants.
Jon Cruddas, the back-bench MP bidding to be Mr Brown’s number two, urged the Chancellor to seize the moment and “regularise” the status of people who are in Britain illegally.
He appealed to Mr Brown not to see it as a Left-wing issue following Tory claims that deputy leadership candidates are lurching away from the centre ground.
“This is not a Left/Right issue but it has to be addressed,” Mr Cruddas told The Daily Telegraph yesterday.
This week, Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary and one of the frontrunners to win the contest, said he was “attracted” to the idea of an amnesty.
In a debate on BBC2’s Newsnight, Harriet Harman, the justice minister and another of the candidates, signalled that illegal immigrants already working here and paying taxes should be allowed to stay.
In stark contrast, two other candidates—Hazel Blears, the Labour Party chairman, and Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary—have raised fears that the move would simply encourage more people to come to Britain.
Miss Blears said that it “sends out the worst possible message to people coming here”. Mr Benn said: “I am not persuaded because I think in the end it might encourage more people [to come].”
Two years ago, the National Audit Office, Whitehall’s official spending watchdog, reported that the enforced removal of failed asylum seekers was costing an average of £11,000 each—a figure which implies that the cost of removing all illegal immigrants would be massive.
And the idea of granting at least some illegal immigrants an amnesty—known as “regularisation” of their status—was discussed and rejected last year by the Home Office.
But Mr Cruddas, who has highlighted the need to combat the far-Right British National Party in Dagenham, his constituency in east London, warned that ID cards would mean the problem could not be ignored. He conceded that the BNP may make short-term political capital out of an amnesty. But in the longer term, he said, it would address grievances that fed the BNP.
The Left-leaning Institute of Public Policy Research said yesterday that the move could give the Treasury an extra £1 billion a year from those who did not pay tax at present.
Some Westminster observers have privately described an amnesty as “the right thing in principle which just happens to be political suicide in practice”.