In the Channel 4 News interview Boris says that deporting the estimated 700,000 illegal immigrants currently living in the UK is "just not going to happen", adding that an amnesty would lead to "hugely increased revenues" from taxes. I'm going to quote his words at length, because it's important to understand the logic of his argument...
What I want is to lead a debate about how sensibly to deal with the 400, 000 people who are living here 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 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...
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?”
“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.”
“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.
“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.
So what do you make of that, then? The knee jerk reaction is to dismiss it out of hand and question Boris's Conservative credentials. The Party's official response has been to say: "We will have to agree to differ with the Mayor on this one".
My problem with immigration amnesties is that I would imagine they would encourage a further flow of illegal immigration in the future. But I am quite happy to admit that I know very little about it and I may be completely wrong. I can see that from an economically liberal perspective it is something worth looking into. I can also see that unless the government has a determination to root out illegal immigrants and send them back from whence they came, then we might as well look at other options.
So I am trying to give Boris the benefit of the doubt, despite my inner reactionary voice telling me it's a barking mad idea. If Boris wants to start a proper debate on it, that may be no bad things, but it would be nice if it could be conducted without the traditional inflammatory language which normally accompanies discussions on this subject.
I need a lie down.