Some migrants to Britain who cannot pass an English test within 2-1/2 years of arriving may not be allowed to stay, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday in a move aimed at fostering greater integration by Muslim women.
Cameron said there were 190,000 British Muslim women who spoke little or no English and Britain needed to take on the “backward attitudes” of some men whom he said exerted damaging control over their wives, sisters and daughters.
“Someone can move to here with very basic English and there’s no requirement to improve it over time. We will change that. We will now say: if you don’t improve your fluency, that could affect your ability to stay in the UK,” Cameron wrote in an article for the Times newspaper.
“This will help make it clear to those men who stop their partners from integrating that there are consequences.”
Women who come to the UK to join husbands will face tests after two and a half years – with failure meaning “they can’t guarantee they will be able to stay” even if they have children, Cameron told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“You have to be able to speak a basic level of English now to come into the country as a husband or a wife.
“We have made that change already and we are now going to toughen that up so halfway through the five-year spousal settlement programme, there will be another opportunity to make sure your English is improving.
“You can’t guarantee you will be able to stay if you are not improving your language.
“It is tough. But in the end it is not enough just to say the Government is going to spend more money and it is our responsibility. People coming to our country, they have responsibilities too.”
He said: “I am not blaming the people who can’t speak English. Some of these people have come to our country from quite patriarchal societies where perhaps the menfolk haven’t wanted them to learn English, haven’t wanted them to integrate.
“Where there is segregation, it is holding people back, it is not in tune with British values and it needs to go. We need to be more assertive.”
The Government estimates that there are 190,000 Muslim women in England who speak little or no English.
Cameron told Today: “The reason for doing this is to build a more integrated country, to build a One Nation Britain, to give people more opportunities.
“But I think there is a connection with combating extremism and it is this: if you have people growing up in a house where no-one speaks English, they are less able to talk to the school, less able to communicate with a local GP.
“I am not saying there is some sort of causal connection between not speaking English and becoming an extremist, of course not. That would be a ridiculous thing to say.
“But if you are not able to speak English, not able to integrate, you may find therefore you have challenges understanding what your identity is and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message.”
He rejected the idea of banning full-face veils as part of the policy.
“In our country people should be free to wear what they like,” he said.
“When you are coming into contact either with different institutions or, for instance, you are in court or you need to see someone’s face at the border then I would always back the authorities or the institutions that have put in place proper and sensible rules.
“Going for the French approach of banning an item of clothing, I do not think that’s the way we do things in this country and I do not think that would help.”
Writing in The Times, the Prime Minister said he would not avoid telling the “hard truths” required to confront the minority of Muslim men whose “backward attitudes” led them to exert “damaging control” over women in their families.
Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said: “David Cameron and his Conservative Government are once again using British Muslims as a political football to score cheap points to appear tough.
“There are three million Muslims in this country and the Prime Minister chooses to focus on a very small minority of extremists when clearly the majority of British Muslims reject extremism.
“The Ramadhan Foundation has been clear for many years that we face an increased risk from terrorism and an ideology of hatred. The best way to confront it is to build support within Muslims and support the work done across the country, and not lashing out and denigrating Muslims.
“This was a right-wing, neo-con Prime Minister delivering more of the same disgraceful stereotyping of British Muslims. (Reuters/PA)