Tories to abandon hardline immigration policy

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The Conservatives are preparing to ditch hardline policies on immigration that brought condemnation during the last general election campaign.

Damian Green, the shadow Immigration minister, will signal a break with the party's aggressive stance on immigration, praising the impact of migrants on British society and pledging to create a "civilised" policy.

Hugely contentious proposals to renegotiate the 1951 Geneva convention and set annual quotas for refugees are likely to be abandonedunder a review of the party's policies. Plans to process asylum applications overseas are also likely to be ditched.

The party will launch a major consultation exercise next week with Britain's ethnic minority communities aimed at drawing up a new "firm and fair" immigration policy. Mr Green said: "We welcome immigration, as long as it is intelligently controlled. It has enriched British society and widened the horizons of the whole British people to the rest of the world. It brings economic benefits and cultural diversity. We also believe that proper control of immigration is essential, both to see good race and community relations and for the proper provision of public services."

Mr Green will meet Muslim leaders in Coventry on Monday with meetings planned forLondon, Manchester, Birmingham and other cities in the autumn.

He added: "We aim to develop a firm and fair immigration policy which has the confidence of all sections of the community. Many minorities in this country have a particular interest in how immigration policy works, or as at present, does not work, so we are asking for their views."

The party's focus on immigration at the general election led to claims of a "bidding war" between the main parties, with the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality Trevor Phillips warning the issue was turning into a "race row". Senior Conservatives also criticised the tone of the campaign.

The consultation represents a sharp change of tone to distance the Conservatives from their image as a hardline anti-immigration party which was fuelled by the party's general election poster campaign which declared: "It's not racist to impose limits on immigration."

The party is likely to concentrate on efforts to secure Britain's borders and speed up the administration of the asylum and immigration systems to make the process clearer and fairer for legitimate immigrants while reducing delays for those with no claim to settle in Britain.

Mr Green acknowledged problems with the party's stance during last year's election. He said: "The tone was perceived by many people as harsh. We want to develop credible and civilised policies that will let people know that our borders are controlled but we want to raise the tone of the debate and we think developing credible policies is the way to stop the debate being dominated by the extremist parties.

"That shrill shouting from the unpleasant parties like BNP needs to be combated by properly thought-out, credible policies. We all agree that the immigration message was too high in the mix in terms of what people were hearing from us. That is now more than a year ago, the world has moved on."

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