Previously, the UK’s coalition government consists of politicians from two different parties who had some divergent policies on illegal immigration. During the campaigning period leading up to the May 2010 General Election, immigration remained a contentious topic. Each of the three main political parties were repeatedly forced to address this issue, at a time when the UK was facing serious challenges such as recovery from a global recession and the ongoing active participation of British troops in foreign disputes.
In part the subject of immigration was forced onto the front pages by the policies of some small, far-right political parties who appeared to be gaining support from “ordinary voters” because of their purportedly pro-British, and therefore anti-immigration, stance. Arguably, the main parties gave greater prominence to the immigration issue in their campaigns in an attempt to avoid losing votes. In a messy election, in which no one party emerged as the clear winner, one thing was clear – these divisive, minority parties got nowhere in the vote.
Critics of the UK’s previous government had repeatedly accused them of failings in the way they dealt with illegal immigrants. Not only was it deemed too easy for illegal immigrants to get into the UK but it seemed as if very little was done to get them out of the country once they were found to be here illegally.
Conservative Pre-Election Policies on Illegal Immigration
The campaign literature put out by the Conservative Party in the run-up to the election made clear that this was a party which would be tough on illegal immigration. The UK’s borders were said to be too easy to penetrate. The Conservatives promised to “crack down” on the problem and to set up a Border Police Force to target illegal immigration and trafficking offences. By also proposing tougher rules on legitimate immigration, the Conservatives were sending out a clear message. Voters who cared about violations of the UK’s borders and unchecked immigration did not have to vote for an extremist party to have their concerns addressed.
Liberal Democrat Pre-Election Policies on Illegal Immigration
The Liberal Democrat’s pre-election manifesto blamed previous Conservative and Labour governments for the immigration-related problems faced by the UK today. In particular, they identified the abolition of exit checks on people leaving the UK as contributing to the difficulty in monitoring the number of illegal immigrants in the country. Whilst emphasising the desire for a fair and liberal immigration system, the Liberal Democrats stated that immigration laws had to be properly enforced for this to be possible. They proposed the re-introduction of entry and exit checks on those moving across the UK’s borders and the introduction of a National Border Force to police immigration laws.
Uniquely amongst the main political parties, the Liberal Democrats had advocated a partial amnesty on illegal immigrants already in the UK. They wanted a system which allowed some illegal immigrants already in the country to become legal, to pay taxes and even to become British citizens.
UK Government’s Policies on Illegal Immigration
When the UK coalition government finally announced its immigration policies in May 2010 it appeared that the Liberal Democrat’s proposed amnesty on illegal immigrants had been completely dropped from the government’s programme. This is, perhaps, unsurprising since the policy was completely at odds with the Conservative Party’s manifesto. Although the Conservatives are now in government, policies for the moment will remain the same.
The introduction of a new Border Police Force to target illegal immigration – as well as the trafficking of people, drugs and weapons – has been confirmed as a policy of the government. The government also intends to enhance current systems for the collaboration between local police forces in relation to illegal immigration and border offences. The re-introduction of exit checks has also been confirmed. More generalised policies to make the immigration system less open to abuse and to make the asylum system more efficient can also be seen as being aimed at the problem of illegal immigration in the UK.