LONDON — Britain moved Wednesday to toughen immigration rules as the government tried to regain the initiative after recent electoral gains by a populist party that wants the country to curb immigration and leave the European Union.
With an austerity program in place and its economy barely out of recession, Britain is one of a number of European countries whose voters appear disenchanted with mainstream politicians and worried about social and economic issues, including immigration.
That has left lawmakers in the Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, vulnerable to the United Kingdom Independence Party, whose success in local elections last week appears to be forcing the established parties to shift policy to the right.
The proposed changes outlined Wednesday would make it easier to deport foreigners who commit serious crimes, increase fines on companies that use illegal labor, and force private landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants. Temporary immigrants would also be forced to pay for some health care.
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The measures were announced at the start of a new parliamentary session in a speech written by the government but delivered, as British constitutional protocol requires, by Queen Elizabeth II. The address is known as the Queen’s Speech and is conducted with much ceremonial pageantry.
The speech came days after the Independence Party won about a quarter of the vote in local elections across the country, sending shock waves through the mainstream political parties.
The party also pushed the Conservatives into third place in a parliamentary by-election in South Shields, in the north of England, which was won by the opposition Labour Party with a reduced majority.
Though drafted before last week’s voting, some of the new legislation announced Wednesday seemed aimed to win back disaffected supporters of the dominant Conservative Party who have voted for the Independence Party, which has been gaining popularity for months.
Before the Queen’s Speech, Cameron used a Twitter post to promote his agenda for the new parliamentary session saying it contained measures on “growth, immigration, pensions, consumer rights and social care” and was designed for “people who work hard and want to get on.”
On immigration, the government said its new measures would aim to stop immigrants from using public services to which they are not entitled, make it harder to appeal deportation orders, regulate access to health care for immigrants and prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses.