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London Mayor Boris Johnson has broken ranks with party policy by suggesting that there should be an amnesty for illegal immigrants, of which 400,000 of the country’s estimated 700,000 live in London..

The story broke on this evening’s Channel 4 News.

Here’s what he had to say, according to the transcript issued by Channel 4:

“What I want is to lead a debate about how sensibly to deal with the 400, 000 people who are living here (London) and working here illegally… What I want to do is to commission a study by my own economics team here at the Greater London Authority into the possibility. We want to look in detail at what the economic impact of such an earned amnesty system would be.

“There are about 400,000 in London.  That’s a huge number. In principle these people have done the wrong thing: they’ve broken the law. In principle they should all be taken and sent back to their place of origin, that’s the right thing to do .. (but) unfortunately it is just not going to happen…”

Asking the question: “How do you cope with people who have been here a long time, the huge numbers of people living here below the line, below the radar, not entering the economy, not able to play a full part in society?”, he said: “Should we have a mass programme of expulsions, because that hasn’t worked: it’s legally incredibly difficult, (and) it’s expensive for the state, or should we see if we can develop a sensible system of earned amnesty, so after a substantial period of time – and I would say more than five years – you can, in principle demonstrate your commitment to this society and to this economy. And you can earn your right to stay here.”

However he added: “What I emphatically don’t want to do is to set up incentives for illegal immigration. You don’t want to create moral hazard, but I think you should have a system whereby people who have been here for a long time can earn a way out of the mess they’re in.”

Talking of the financial benefits, Mr Johnson said:  “And the advantage of that is not just that you regularise them – and you bring them into society and you decriminalise them – but also of course you increase your tax base… In Spain when they did this they hugely increased the revenues available to the Spanish exchequer from people who were suddenly entering the economy legally and could be taxed.”

But: “There’s got to be a very substantial period in which they have been in this country. I think that we could have other hoops that they might have to go through in order to be able to quality for an earned amnesty scheme. For instance, it might be necessary to have a clean criminal record. It might be important that they should go through various citizenship tests, the kind we already have. And there might be some sort of financial obligations that they have to meet as well.”

Sources close to Boris insist that this is no gaffe, but rather
something which he has thought through and decided merits looking into,
not least because of that potential tax revenue there is to be gained. I
understand Boris told shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve in advance
of his intention to make this announcement.

It is, of course, not an area over which the London mayor has any formal power; but Boris evidently believes that it is his right as the capital’s elected voice to lead a debate on this issue.

The official CCHQ response was:

"We will have to agree to differ on this. One-off amnesties have been
tried elsewhere and the evidence is that they do not work, but lead to
more."

What do you think?

Jonathan Isaby

> CHANNEL 4 VIDEO

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