Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Referendum on Immigration to the UK

Will there be a petition for a referendum on immigration to the UK?

Migration Watch Petition
Starting 1 November 2011, Migration Watch has launched an e-petition on immigration to Britain, with the aim of collecting at least 100,000 signatures to be presented to Parliament. The object of the petition, which is presented under the title no to 70 million, is to call on the Government to take necessary measures to reduce immigration to Britain.

The Coalition Divided
Many people question the will and ability of the Coalition Government to take any decisive measures to reduce the numbers of people moving to the United Kingdom. There are a number of reasons supporting these doubts, the most notable being that the Liberal Democrats, who are part of the Coalition, are fully dedicated to immigration, as they believe this is essential for the British economy.

The Conservatives, who form the larger part of the Coalition, could not remain in government without the support of their Liberal Democrat partners. As a result, they are obliged to make compromises that stifle any real debate on important popular issues, such as EU membership and immigration, so as not to lose the support of their coalition partners.

Another reason why the petition may be doomed to failure is the fact that Britain is a member of the European Union, and EU laws oblige all member states to allow unrestricted access into their country to citizens of any EU country, be it to find work, claim benefits or have access to services such as health care.

Petition for a Referendum on Immigration
Considering the circumstances, it is unlikely that the British Government will initiate any serious debate on immigration into the UK. This would leave open one option: a new petition, but this time round asking for a referendum on immigration, effectively taking the decision away from Parliament and placing it directly in the hands of the British People.

Of-course this would lead to a constitutional crisis, as the EU laws would not allow a referendum which proposed limiting immigration from other countries including those of the European Union. So the obvious conclusion would be to have a referendum on EU membership first, and then sign a petition for a referendum on immigration.

General Election in 2012
According to British law, a petition presented to Parliament with at least 100,000 signatures must be debated in Parliament, although the petition is not binding. On 24 October 2011, Parliament voted on a petition calling for a referendum on EU membership which had over 100,000 signatures, and the majority of MPs voted against the referendum proposal.

The official reason given by the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron was that the Coalition government had an agreement obliging both parties to remain dedicated to the European Union, the Liberal Democrats being strongly in favour of continued EU membership.

Considering that the present Coalition would likely reject the terms of the Migration Watch petition that – to all effect – asks the Government to consider a significant reduction in immigration, and taking into account that any future petition calling for a referendum on immigration to Britain might be voted against by the majority of MPs in Parliament on the grounds that the Liberal Democrats and the Labour opposition are both in favour of further uncontrolled immigration, the only other likely alternative would be for the Conservatives to call for an early General Election in 2012. This decision would come about owing to the evident incompatibility between the two Coalition partners, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

In order for this to happen, it may well be necessary for the present Migration Watch petition to be handed to Parliament, and for a future petition calling for a referendum on immigration to be consigned to Parliament. If the Coalition continues ignoring the people, it is likely that many Tory MPs will rebel against the Prime Minister David Cameron and withdraw their confidence from the Government. In so doing, they would bring to an end the partnership between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats and open the way to an early General Election. This may in fact be the only way for them not to lose once and for all the support of their electorate.

Article written by D. Alexander

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