Immigration Minister brands Boris Johnson a 'naive nincompoop' for suggesting illegal immigrant amnesty
By Kirsty Walker
Last updated at 2:49 AM on 24th November 2008
Boris Johnson was last night labelled a 'naive nincompoop' by a Government minister after calling for an amnesty for illegal immigrants.
The London Mayor has ordered a study of the potential benefits of allowing hundreds of thousands of longterm immigrants to earn the right to stay in Britain.
But immigration minister Phil Woolas warned it could lead to more vulnerable people being exploited by traffickers.
The Tory Mayor's remarks have also opened up a rift with party leader David Cameron who has distanced himself from the idea.
An estimated 700,000 people are thought to be working illegally in the UK, some 400,000 of them in the capital.
Mr Johnson said allowing longterm illegal immigrants to earn the right to stay would see 'hugely increased' tax revenues.
He suggested those given an amnesty would have to have at least five years' residency and be able to demonstrate their commitment 'to this society and to this economy'.
But Mr Woolas said: 'His comments might start with the best of intentions but will lead to more people traffickers making more money and exploiting more vulnerable individuals.'
Speaking at an EU immigration summit in Paris, he added: 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
'I have always thought that Boris was a bit of a nincompoop and these proposals are naive in the extreme.'
The immigration minister added that, under a government crackdown, illegal immigrants were being thrown out of the country at a rate of one every eight minutes.
Mr Woolas said: 'The UK Border Agency is committed to stopping illegal migration. We are putting in place the biggest shake up of the immigration system for 45 years and we are seeing the results of this.'
Government sources later went as far as saying Mr Johnson's calls for an amnesty were ' dangerous' as they would encourage more illegal immigrants to head for the UK.
They pointed out that instant communication meant new trafficking routes would open up 'within days' of the UK being viewed as 'going soft' on immigration.
The Mayor also risks accusations he is overstepping his remit as he has no power over immigration policy and can only put pressure on the Government to act.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of MigrationwatchUK, said the proposal was 'unbelievably irresponsible. An amnesty would cost the taxpayer at least 500million a year,' he said.
'It would add hundreds of thousands to the housing lists who would move up the priority list as their families would be allowed to follow them.
'So the reward for breaking our laws for long enough would be a meal ticket for life.
'This could only encourage still more illegal immigrants to come and take their place as the Spanish have found with their six amnesties in the past 20 years, each larger than the previous one.'
Mr Johnson insisted he did not want to incentivise illegal immigration but said there were significant legal and financial obstacles to mass deportations.
He acknowledged illegal immigrants had broken the law and should 'in principle' be deported. But he added: 'Unfortunately it is just not going to happen.'