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The Family Breakup Bill Is A New Low For The Conservatives

4 min read

Countless families who planned to reunite in the UK have had their hopes dashed by a cruel, arbitrary threshold.

In the Conservatives’ latest attempt to distract from their own incompetence, the Home Secretary has announced a raft of new measures aimed at curbing legal migration. Unsurprisingly, the announcement was full of harsh and half-baked policy proposals — none more so than the changes to the family visa system.

Starting this Spring, British citizens and people already permanently settled in the UK will need to prove they earn at least £38,700 in order to bring their partners to live with them — more than double the current salary threshold of £18,600. That threshold may be even higher for couples bringing their children with them, if the current rules are anything to go by.

Make no mistake, the individual impact of these changes will be devastating. We are already seeing reports of wedding plans thrown into disarray and couples forced to change long standing plans to move to the UK.

Just look at my constituent Matthew, whose wedding plans have been thrown into chaos. Deepa, his Malaysian fiancée, was due to come to Scotland for their wedding soon — but as a PhD student Matthew’s earnings are nowhere near the new threshold. He has no idea how he and Deepa can be together now, and is considering moving to Malaysia.

It’s a situation undoubtedly causing anxiety, uncertainty and frustration — and there will be countless Brits facing similar circumstances.

Predictably, the motivation for this steep increase has been murky. Cleverly insisted that it was to ensure that people could only bring in dependents they could financially support. Yet the £38,700 figure – probably picked out of thin air – is higher than the current median household income in the UK, before tax and benefits.

With this one unexpected announcement, countless families who thought they could be reunited in the UK had their hopes dashed, simply because they do not meet an arbitrary salary threshold far above what is actually needed to be self-sufficient. Not to mention Armed Forces personnel who will be impacted.

At the same time, the new rules also leave a worrying question mark over the heads of families who are already settled here. Many families who were eligible under the old rules but no longer qualify will need to extend their visas after the Spring. What happens to them?

It’s not yet clear how many families will fall into that category. In a typical show of Conservative incompetence, the Home Office and No 10 were briefing different responses to how the new rules would affect visa renewals. The Home Secretary has offered no certainty these families won't be ripped apart.

Let’s be clear: in reality, these new proposals will do nothing to restore the public’s confidence in the Conservatives’ ability to manage migration. It won’t tackle small boat crossings or protect public services. All it will achieve is causing untold heartbreak and anxiety for British families. 

It is just another example of Conservative ministers pulling the wool over our eyes and shifting blame onto everyone else, instead of owning up to their own failures.

Many Conservative MPs often talk about the importance of family. They’re right, and that’s why I hope to see them opposing these plans as strongly as we are. The thought of British children – or any children – being separated from their parents because of arbitrary visa rules should make us all uncomfortable.

Our country is better than this. If they have just a shred of decency left, the Conservatives would immediately scrap these awful proposals. 


Alistair Carmichael MP is the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland.

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