c.2013 New York Times News Service
LONDON — British authorities Wednesday announced plans to toughen immigration laws as the government tried to regain the initiative after spectacular electoral gains last week by a populist party that wants to curb migration and leave the European Union.
The proposed changes would make it easier to deport foreigners who commit serious crimes, increase fines on companies that use illegal labor and force private landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants. Temporary migrants would also be forced to pay for some health care.
The measures were announced at the start a new parliamentary session in a speech written by the government but delivered, as British constitutional protocol requires, by Queen Elizabeth II. The address is known as the Queen’s Speech and is conducted with much ceremonial pageantry.
The speech came days after the populist United Kingdom Independence Party won about a quarter of the vote in local elections last week across different parts of the country, sending shock waves through the mainstream political parties.
The independence party pushed the Conservatives into third place in a parliamentary by-election in South Shields, in the north of England, which was won by the opposition Labour Party with a reduced majority.
Though drafted before last week’s voting, some of the new legislation announced Wednesday seemed designed to please disaffected supporters of the dominant Conservative Party who may be tempted by the independence party, which has been gaining popularity for months.
Before the Queen’s Speech, Prime Minister David Cameron used a Twitter post to promote his agenda for the new parliamentary session saying it contained measures on “growth, immigration, pensions, consumer rights & social care” and was designed for “people who work hard and want to get on.”
On immigration, the government said its new measures would aim to stop immigrants from using public services to which they are not entitled, make it harder to appeal against deportation, regulate access to health care for immigrants and prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses.
The Queen’s Speech also included proposals for legislation to change pensions, reduce red tape for businesses and stimulate Britain’s stagnant economy.
But, despite pressure from euroskeptic Conservatives who want to loosen or end Britain’s membership in the European Union, there was no planned legislation committing the government to hold a referendum on the issue.