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Boris Johnson today put himself on a collision course with David Cameron as he revived calls for an amnesty for illegal immigrants.
The Mayor of London said the government had to be ‘honest’ that when someone has been in Britain for 15 or 20 years ‘authorities no longer really pursue you’.
But the Prime Minister has rejected the idea, warning last week that it would send out a ‘terrible signal of Britain as a soft touch’.
The coalition has sought to take a tougher line on immigration, unveiling a raft of measures to curb benefit tourism and deport people in the UK illegally.
But Mr Johnson said the failure of border agency staff and the police to find illegal immigrants and send them home meant there was already effectively an amnesty in place.
And he blamed ‘ambulance-chasing lawyers’ who clogged up the legal system with repeated appeals against deportation.
Appearing on his new monthly radio phone-in on LBC 97.3, the London Mayor said: ‘This is a chronic problem and if you look at what has happened in this country over the last 20 years, we have continuously failed to evict anybody.
‘If you look at the number of people who are staying here illegally and you measure that against the number that are meant to be on planes, it is absolutely astonishingly small.
‘The culture of human rights, the immense power of the ambulance-chasing lawyers who immediately come in and offer people protection against eviction, insert all sorts of delays into the procedure. It is blindingly difficult to get people on to planes.
‘They melt away into the maquis, into the undergrowth, and they are lost again. It is one of the reasons people lost confidence in the immigration system.’
Mr Johnson said he remained convinced about the need for an amnesty despite the fact that Mr Cameron and other party leaders ‘turned their machine guns on me’ when he first suggested it in 2008.
‘We effectively have it,’ he said after being asked about a recent operation to remove dozens of Romanian squatters from a derelict former football club in the capital.
‘If you have been here for 10 or 12 years, I’m afraid the authorities no longer really pursue you. They give up. Why not be honest about what is going on?
‘Ultimately you have got to reflect reality. Otherwise they are not engaged in the economy, they are not being honest with the system, they are not paying their taxes properly and it is completely crazy.
‘But the key thing is to kick ‘em out – get them before they hit first base. Stop them coming in in such numbers and be much, much tougher in your general approach to borders.’
The Lib Dems suggested an amnesty in their 2010 election manifesto, but leader Nick Clegg ditched the policy in March because it was ‘seen by many as a reward for breaking the law’.
Last week Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi claimed offering an amnesty to more than half a million illegal migrants would make financial sense by enabling them to pay tax rather than subsisting on cash-in-hand jobs.
It would boost Tory support among ethnic minorities and stop the undercutting of low-income workers, Mr Zahawi claimed.
But he was slapped down by Mr Cameron, who said: ‘It’s not what we are going to implement. I’ve never supported an amnesty.
‘I think that it would send a terrible signal of Britain as a soft touch.
‘What this Government is doing is making sure we have strong control of our borders, strong control of immigration, a proper policy of returning people who don’t have a right to be in the UK.’
Today Mr Zahawi insisted he and Mr Johnson were proposing the ‘sensible approach’.
‘We have got to tackle this issue because we have got to create harmonious societies,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One.
‘There are people who’ve been here for 12 or 15 years working in the cash economy, the black economy.
‘If you can bring them out of the shadows, bring them into the real economy, they can contribute to the tax system … GBP3 billion a year, according to the London School of Economics.
‘Coupled with that, you need rigour in your immigration system, border checks, UKBA being able to get people out of the country, not allowing them to use … human rights legislation.’
The mayor fielded a lot of calls about London’s bus and rail system, and defended controversial bonuses given to transport bosses following last year’s Olympics.
He has followed Mr Clegg in hosting a regular phone-in, although the Deputy Prime Minister answers calls one a week.
After David Cameron was accused of jinxing tennis star Laura Robson by tweeting a message of support, Mr Johnson declined to use the radio appearance to wish Andy Murray good luck at Wimbledon.
‘If I say `Go Andy!’ or something like that, I will be accused of blighting his chances,’ he joked.
However, he did not blame the Prime Minister for cheering on British sports heroes who have later gone down to defeat. ‘David Cameron, like all politicians, wants to offer support to great British athletic stars,’ he said.
– Daily Mail