Clegg ready to make immigrants pay the price

Nick Clegg has joined the other two party leaders in getting tough on immigration today, in a speech which addresses a topic long considered sacrosanct in Liberal Democrat circles.

The deputy prime minister, who campaigned on a manifesto promising an amnesty for illegal immigrants during the 2010 general election, demanded visitors from high-risk countries put down a financial deposit before they are allowed to enter the UK.

"The challenge isn't just stopping people coming into Britain illegally, it's about dealing with individuals who come over legitimately, but then become illegal once they're already here," he said.

"One idea which appeals to me is a system of security bonds. And so I've asked the Home Office to do some work on it, with a view to running a pilot before the end of the year."

Under the plans people travelling from countries whose nationals often over-stay their visas would be charged an extra retainer in addition to the normal criteria used for entrance to the UK. They would get the bond back when they leave the country.

The move is likely to be greeted with dismay by British Pakistanis, who often struggle to have their relations allowed into the UK for family occasions. Any new restrictions would be viewed as an additional financial burden on already difficult visa negotiations.

The speech, which demanded fewer rights of appeal for immigrants denied the right to stay in the UK, is also likely to incense traditional Liberal Democrat supporters, who are typically much more sympathetic to immigration than mainstream public opinion.

But political analysts believe the party's traditional pro-immigration agenda puts a limit on its ability to reach out beyond its core supporters.

Clegg now faces a Labour party intent to move on from its record of a chaotic immigration policy. Ed Miliband recently combined a party broadcast with a keynote speech by shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper setting out a more robust approach to immigration.

He agreed with Cooper's call to avoid an "arms race" on immigration, condemning "low populism", in a move observers noted extends the Lib-Lab rapprochement currently underway.

He then called for "an immigration system that is zero-tolerant towards abuse" and attacked Labour for not realising "just how wrong" their immigration policies were, however.

"All the British people ask is for a system they can have confidence in. We hear that, and we are delivering it," the deputy prime minister concluded.

"I'm determined we lay the foundations for an immigration system that embodies this nation's instincts and its values: our openness and tolerance on one hand; our sense of fair play, on the other.

"The Liberal Democrats are at the forefront of that. We want to stay a tolerant Britain, and to that end we will be zero-tolerant of abuse."

His efforts to clarify the party's position were undermined by Vince Cable, however, as the business secretary used a magazine interview to make clear the Liberal Democrats do not support the goal of cutting net migration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands.

Cable said that approach was Tory policy only and doubted the goal could be achieved. "The argument that government can somehow deliver this, when you think about the logic of it: net immigration means reducing the number of people coming in or increasing the number of British people emigrating. Is that the policy objective? I don't know…"

The explosion of 'Cleggmania' which upset the 2010 general election was partly killed off by polling day when voters were made aware of the amnesty policy, campaigners reported back to head office.