The new immigration minister has been parachuted in to the Home Office amidst the growing row between the UK Border Agency and London Metropolitan University over the revocation of the university’s international student licence. Furthermore, growing opposition from business leaders and human rights groups on the potential impacts of controversial changes to immigration policy on business and family life respectively will be some of the many obstacles for the new minister to navigate through.
However, while unexpected, we see the introduction of Mr Harper as the new immigration minister as a steady hand with the ‘straightforward task of maintaining the current government course on immigration set by his predecessor Damian Green’.
Kenneth Clarke MP was removed from the Justice Department, which could mean that a platform has been set for a possible onslaught on human rights that in turn may lead to proposals for further controls on immigration and the potential removal of crucial rights such as a right to family life and other protections under domestic law and the European Convention on Human Rights for migrants and asylum seekers.
Baroness Warsi, among other things the adviser to Cameron on how to attract the migrant vote was axed as Conservative Party Chairman and moved down to the Foreign Office to take on a junior role. What will it ultimately mean for the Tories given that a number of their key target seats for winning a majority in 2015 depend on migrant voters backing them at the ballot box remains to be seen?
Some positives did come out of the reshuffle. For example, a month ago I argued that an opportunity arose from the reshuffle that could help airlift the Coalition government out of the immigration cap straitjacket it found itself in by appointing a ‘Minister for Economic Growth’ under the Business and Enterprise ministerial role. This minister would be an influential figure that could give cover for other ministers if U-turns are necessary. By appointing former Conservative Party co-chairman and popular grassroots campaigner Michael Fallon MP to this role, David Cameron may finally have an important player in the Conservative Party that can knock some heads together at the Home Office if growth strategies are being stalled by bad immigration policies.
Another opportunity for the immigration debate arose from the appointment of All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration vice-chairman Rt Hon Tom Brake MP as Deputy Leader of the House of Commons. Mr Brake, who served as the Liberal Democrat Backbench lead on Home Affairs and Justice, has the opportunity now to put a strong emphasis on the need for a more comprehensive scrutiny process on bills, legislations, and motions that have the likelihood of disproportionately impacting migrants.
A shift in immigration policy emanating from this reshuffle is very unlikely and the government will continue to pursue a reduction in net migration for the foreseeable future. The only indication of any change in immigration policy would be a change in Secretary of State, although, one could sensibly anticipate that if this were to happen then this would lead to further restrictions to rights of migrants.