Home Secretary Theresa May was accused last night of watering down a Tory pledge to bar immigrants unless they can speak good English.
The promise was a central part of David Cameron’s Election campaign. But it has now been disclosed that the families of asylum seekers allowed to settle in the UK will be exempt from the ban.
Labour MPs said the Conservatives had been forced to drop their hardline stance by their Liberal Democrat Coalition partners who support uncontrolled immigration.
The move came on the eve of the launch of Britain’s first-ever cap on immigration.
Mrs May will tomorrow disclose how a strict limit will be imposed on non-EU work permits.
Former Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said: ‘This ruling means that a British man who marries, say, a Brazilian girl who can’t speak English will not be able to bring her into this country.
‘But an Afghan who gets here on the back of a lorry and successfully claims asylum can bring his Afghan wife, children and grandparents in–even if they don’t speak English.
‘The Tories gave the impression that the English speaking test would apply to all immigrants.
‘It is now clear that is not the case. It is absolutely essential that all immigrants speak English if they are to integrate with the rest of society. This is clear evidence that the Lib Dem tail is wagging the Conservative dog in this Coalition.’
When Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg formed the Coalition, the Lib Dem leader agreed to drop his commitment to grant an amnesty to illegal immigrants.
However, a little-noticed Commons written reply last week said: ‘The new language requirement will not apply to dependants of refugees and people granted humanitarian protection in the UK.’
The Government granted the exemption after being warned that forcing refugees’ dependants to learn English breaks Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which gives everyone ‘the right to a family life’.
Lawyers say a refugee could argue that as they cannot return to their country, they can gain their ‘right to family life’ only by having it allowed in the UK–whether or not they speak English. Britons whose foreign spouses cannot speak English could get their right by emigrating.
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘In compelling circumstances where a refusal of leave would amount to a breach of Article 8, we will consider granting discretionary leave outside the immigration rules.’
About 20,000 people a year apply for asylum in Britain.