The Conservative leader of Redbridge Council, Cllr Keith Prince, has criticised the inclusion of his borough in the route for the Home Office's advertising van, concerned with illegal immigration.
The van has the message:
"In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest. Text HOME to 78070 for free advice and help with travel documents.
We can help you return home voluntarily without fear of arrest or detention."
Cllr Prince has signed a cross party statement which says:
"It is clearly most unfortunate that the Home Office should take actions which were bound to be controversial, about highly sensitive matters, without very careful discussion with the affected communities.’
"If we had been consulted, we would have warned strongly that, whatever effect this campaign might be intended to have on people who are in the country unlawfully, that message is far outweighed by the negative message to the great majority of people, from all backgrounds, who live and work together in Redbridge, peacefully, productively and lawfully.
"We ask the Home Office to withdraw the campaign."
Over in Barnet another Cllr David Longstaff, the Cabinet Member for Safety and Resident Engagement, also a Conservative, isn't keen either. He said:
“I’m yet to be convinced that this particular scheme is the best way to deal with illegal immigrants and look forward to seeing how its success will be measured.”
I disagree with Cllr Prince and Cllr Longstaff.
The message is certainly clear and strong – but that is a good thing. There is a danger that as local councillors we spend so much time wading through bureaucratic reports that we get used to prissy euphemisms.
Actually, I think there should be an earned amnesty brought in for some illegal immigrants who are making a particularly strong contribution to society. The Centre Forum think tank had a paper on this. Those who work hard, learn English if they don't speak it already, have some special skill or capacity for enterprise, or undertake voluntary work could be covered by it. In other words, there are some illegal immigrants who should be allowed to stay here, whose arrangement should be "regularised."
However, the message to the rest that they should leave or face deportation is a statement of fact. Describing it as racist is odd as that seems to assume that no illegal immigrants in the UK are white. It is also a mistake to assume that only white British citizens are concerned about illegal immigration.
Rather than being extreme, the approach encourages a practical, humane alternative to deportation. A voluntary arrangement including help with travel arrangements. Given the costs involved in deportating half a million people, that is an attractive option for the Government.