It began the year as a relatively quiet issue. Then along came the Ukip surge, a shock European election and two Conservative defections. Here we look back at the last 12 months of immigration.
As EU movement restrictions are lifted on workers from the newest EU countries, a handful of visitors from both countries arrive in Britain despite a cacophony of alarmist headlines. Romanians are greeted at Luton Airport by Home Affairs Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz and a certain Tory MP Mark Reckless, who by the end of the year, has defected to Ukip.
Mark Harper, the Conservative immigration minister, who once vehemently defended the “Go Home” immigration vans, resigns after it emerges that his house cleaner is in the UK illegally. He is replaced by junior Home Office minister James Brokenshire as Minister of State.
The first Syrian refugees arrive in Britain as part of a Government scheme to relocate the most vulnerable people fleeing the country’s bloody civil war. Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox says David Cameron’s pledge to cut net migration to tens of thousands is a “statistical nonsense” that underestimates the rising threat of Ukip.
Government figures suggest 3,000 unemployed immigrants arrive from Europe each year to claim around £100 a week. The figures, released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), catapult the concept of “benefit tourism” onto the news agenda which shapes David Cameron’s reform of EU immigration in the six months that follow.
Meanwhile alarm bells ring inside Tory HQ amid reports that Ukip is predicted to capture one-third of the vote in the forthcoming European elections.
As predicted Ukip decimate the two main political parties in the European elections with the Conservatives losing more than 140 council seats. David Cameron says the party will need to show they have “answers” on issues such as immigration and welfare reform, after conceding the public were “frustrated” with the political establishment’s failure to address their concerns.
Ed Miliband however put the results down to a “deep sense of discontent with the way the country is run” and said votes for Ukip “are an expression of this discontent” and a desire for change.
David Cameron’s European headache intensifies after he suffers a humiliating defeat when EU leaders voted overwhelmingly in favour of nominating Jean-Claude Juncker as the next president of the European commission. The PM appears to stake his reputation on stopping the Luxembourg politician Juncker, as he fears the leading candidate would not allow the UK to negotiate a new relationship with Brussels to the satisfaction of Eurosceptics and compound his problems at home.
Meanwhile the Home Office launches Operation Centurion, a two-week crackdown on illegal workers while Channel 4 News uncovers campaigners using leaked government documents to warn those being targeted.
David Cameron unveils tough new immigration measures today, designed to reassure voters that ministers are taking concerns about benefits abuses by EU migrants seriously. People coming to the UK from Europe will be allowed to claim benefits for only three months, half the current allowance of six. The Prime Minister also visits the scene of a dawn raid hours after immigration officers arrested suspected illegal migrants. The move draws criticism with Shami Chakrabarti, head of Liberty, describing it as “bad taste and constitutionally inappropriate for elected politicians to intervene in law enforcement.”
The government attempts to drop their 2011 pledge to reduce net migration to below one hundred thousand realising that EU freedom of movement makes that practically impossible. But Labour seize on an immigration pledge that has not been met. By the end of the month Tory MP Douglas Carswell defects to Ukip, saying principles are more important than political careers. David Cameron calls his departure as “deeply regrettable”.
Meanwhile it emerges that private companies including G4S, Serco, GEO and Mitie are paying asylum seekers £1 an hour to paint, clean, serve food and even buff the floors at immigration detention centres.
Passengers using the Eurotunnel are warned to search their own cars for illegal immigrants who may have broken in and hidden inside. The heightened state of alert at Calais is put in place after two groups of at least 100 people attempt to storm on to ferries bound for Britain. Downing Street insists it has offered a £3million to improve security at Calais but the money was still “awaiting approval from Calais chamber of commerce”.
Douglas Carswell makes history after triumphing in the Clacton-by-election to become Ukip’s first elected MP. The party also came within touching distance of winning Heywood and Middleton, a Labour stronghold. The results are a serious blow to both major parties just seven months from a general election.
The Prime Minister said that “proper” controls on immigration are needed including reforms to movement within the European Union . The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel reportedly warns Mr Cameron that she is prepared to see Britain leave the EU rather than give in to his demands.
Mark Reckless, the second Tory MP to defect to Ukip, holds his Rochester and Strood seat with a majority of 2,920 over his old party. Ukip target 20 seats it believes it can win at next May’s general election in an attempt to hold the balance of power in another hung parliament.
A flurry of issues including the resignation of their secretary and allegations of sexual harassment by a former Ukip member slow the momentum of the Ukip march. The number of times migrants have been caught trying to enter Britain illegally has almost quadrupled over the past three years and reached nearly 3,000 a month, according to official figures.
Meanwhile it emerges that the Home Office entered into a £30 million contract with an outsourcing firm that led to fewer than 1,000 illegal immigrants leaving Britain.