The Lib Dems have signed off on a policy to give migrant spouses an entitlement to benefits from their first day in the UK – without any form of means testing.
The move was voted through at the Lib Dem conference in Brighton despite opposition from party HQ and warnings from activists that the party would be “slaughtered” on the doorstep as a result.
The demand was tagged on as an amendment to a major new policy which outlined the Lib Dems’ approach to immigration issues.
In practice it would mean, under a Lib Dem government, migrant spouses and legal partners can claim “without any form of means testing or prohibition on seeking support from the state”.
The party’s home affairs spokesman Sir Ed Davey urged delegates to reject the proposal, saying the policy had “already captured the spirit of the amendment”.
Louise Morales, a local Lib Dem councillor in Woking, also urged members to vote against the measure, telling the conference hall the party would be “slaughtered” for it.
She added: “For the average knocking on doors I cannot go to the public and say, oh we’re going to give people a visa and they are instantly going to be able to claim benefits.”
The policy paper, which faced some opposition for not going far enough in reforming the immigration system, also calls for the abolition of the net migration target, closure of eight detention centres, allowing asylum seekers to work while their claims are decided and removing responsibility for visas and asylum from the Home Office.
Further measures include making funds available to local authorities to “reward community groups who develop innovative and successful ways of promoting social cohesion” and enabling graduates to stay and work in the UK for two years after their course.
Sir Ed said: “Britain’s immigration system is in desperate need of reform.
“Families are separated by complex visa requirements. The NHS can’t recruit the doctors it needs. People without documents are denied access to healthcare and housing. Confidence in the system has been shattered.
“We will scrap Theresa May’s damaging net migration target and hostile environment. We’ll strip the discredited Home Office of responsibility for visas and asylum. We’ll end indefinite detention and invest the money saved in community-based alternatives, lower visa fees, and a bigger, reformed Border Force.”
Former party leader Tim Farron brought people to their feet with his advocacy of the proposals, saying: “There is an urgency to this debate – we are perhaps a few weeks away from an immigration bill coming to this Parliament.
“If we pass this paper today we will have the most liberal, compassionate tool kit to take on the Tories, to shame Labour and help the people who need it most, if we delay we will not.”