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The Liberal Democrat candidate running to be Mayor of London says he will fund citizenship applications and sue the Home Office to secure permanent status for non-British Londoners who’ve settled in the city, as well as those who have lived here since birth.
Rob Blackie, the former director of research for late Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy, said some young people were being pushed into crime as they could not afford the cost of citizenship fees.
The cost to become a citizen through “naturalisation” – after living here over five years – is currently £1,330, and over £1,200 for other types of registration. It amounts to about three full weeks of pay on the Minimum Wage.
Speaking to Byline Times in Brixton, near where he’s based, Blackie said: “There are a whole load of kids in Britain who have spent their whole lives here and are British in every way – except their passport. Along the way, their parents died or left them here with an aunt or something. They are entitled to British citizenship – but they often get to 16, and can’t get a job as they can’t get a National Insurance number. They get to 18, and can’t go to university as they can’t get a student loan.
“Why don’t they get British citizenship? The answer is the cost of applying for it. Kids who have been groomed into gangs have ended up committing crimes to get the money to pay the Home Office to get British citizenship. You can’t really imagine a bigger failure of public policy than that.”
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He has promised to launch a so-called “London Passport”. If someone has lived in London for a few years, “we’ll treat you as a citizen of London”.
The mayoral hopeful believes that by City Hall suing the “predatory” Home Office directly on behalf of EU citizens and those who lack UK passports, it will create more Londoners who want to stay and can pay taxes here.
“For a lot of kids in that situation, they have problems with documentation. And we can help with that. And that’s creating new British citizens who want to pay taxes. You couldn’t really get anything better for society,” Blackie says.
Many EU citizens are “stuck” in a situation where in theory they have rights to live and work here, but they are not enforced “because the Home Office is both incompetent and predatory”, he argues.
“A lot of the time that you sue the Home Office, you’ll win the case – as under the exit agreement they’re breaking the law. But they’re refusing to make it easier. There’s hundreds of these cases – people going back to Spain for six months during Covid and losing their settled status. Under the reading of the law, they should probably get settled status – but the Home Office doesn’t care”, the London campaigner added.
Asked how much it would cost, Blackie said it wouldn’t cost a lot “if you win”. “Most of these people are going to win, as the exit agreement is pretty strong, but it relies on people enforcing their rights. The net cost would be pretty small. The ideal situation is that the HO changes their behaviour so you don’t have to do this in the first place”, he told Byline Times.
He added that the Greater London Authority could also help fund people’s applications for citizenship if they were struggling. “There’s a humane thing here. A lot of people in London have been caused a lot of stress by this”.
The Lib Dem candidate also added he believes that “one day” Britain is going to rejoin the EU: “The public has already come quite a way towards that”.
“It will happen.” But treating EU citizens in the UK fairly needs to come before a conversation about rejoining the bloc can begin, he said.
In another intervention into the mayoral debate, Blackie argued that sexual assault is now ‘effectively legal’ in London. In England and Wales, just 1.5% of rape allegations reported to police result in someone being charged. Even fewer lead to a conviction.
In July, the Met Police said it had charged more than 500 cases of rape and serious sexual offences in the last 12 months compared to the previous year, under a strategy to “target the most dangerous men”.
But Blackie argues much more needs to be done. While Labour mayor Sadiq Khan does not have control over the Crown Prosecution Service’s decisions to prosecute – or day-to-day handling of the Met Police – the London Mayor is effectively the Police and Crime Commissioner and can push for stronger processes and priorities.
Baroness Casey’s recent report into racism and sexism in the Met Police was the trigger for Blackie running. “The whole Casey report is even worse than it has been reported…There was a particular line and that made me stop, which was a police officer quoted as saying that if you look at the Met’s performance on rape and serious sexual offences, they may as well be legal. It’s effectively true because two thirds are not recorded in the first place” – and just a tiny fraction result in conviction.
“There are a whole range of things you’ve got to get right from the very beginning to secure a conviction. You’ve got to persuade people that it’s worth pursuing their complaint. You’ve got to investigate it. You’ve got to take it to trial and they’ve got to be convicted. And all of those things have got worse over time”, Blackie said.
He claimed that sexual offences have “not been spent on top of [Khan’s] agenda.” For sexual offences, the Casey review recommended that officers should have no more than 13 cases each. The average for officers dealing with sexual offences is 18 – 50% more than recommended. That means “cases don’t get investigated properly, victims withdraw because they give up on the process, and cases take a long time to reach court”.
Officers have also reported high rates of “burnout” – in some cases “higher than in the NHS during the middle of Covid” according to a quote from the Casey report.
Key to shifting resources to sexual offences is massively cutting down on stop and searches, which disproportionately affect black men, Blackie believes.
“You can stop doing some stupid stuff. We make tens of thousands of stop and searches for cannabis every year. It’s come down a bit, but it’s still huge. They are so pointless because they waste a huge amount of time, with hundreds of officers having to do the paperwork.”
There have been a million stop and searches over the past five years in London. Blackie says the Met Police should stop arresting people for cannabis possession – and for possessing nitrous oxide when the laughing gas ban comes into effect at the end of this year – a ban backed by Labour. There were around 23,000 arrests for cannabis possession in London in 2020 and 2021.
The Lib Dem candidate also hit out at Conservative mayoral candidate Susan Hall AM, who has been caught liking tweets calling the capital “Londonistan” and praising racist politician Enoch Powell.
But he aligned more with the Conservatives in opposing the expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone at the end of last month. The £12.50 a day charge for the most polluting vehicles now covers all of London in a bid to tackle air pollution – but Lib Dems argue the policy was rushed through. Blackie has committed to a review based on the evidence of its impact.
He continues to work on his “Breaking Putin’s Censorship” campaign, an initiative to show Russian citizens “real news” about events in Ukraine using online ads. The effort aims to fight misinformation and censorship in the authoritarian state. Blackie acknowledges there are security risks for this work – but says he takes sufficient safety precautions.
The Lib Dems are currently polling around 15% for the mayoral election which is due to take place next May.
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