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With increased attention on parliamentarians’ public declarations of interest in ending indefinite detention, it is worth revisiting what was said by political parties about immigration detention, if at all, in the run-up to the General Election in 2017 and how their position (at least the one described by their manifesto document) shifted between 2015 and 2017.


In the Labour Party’s 2017 election manifesto document, For the many, not the fewthe topic of immigration appears in the section, ‘Negotiating Brexit’.

Labour will develop and implement fair immigration rules. We will not discriminate between people of different races or creeds. We will end indefinite detentions and distinguish between migrant labour and family attachment and will continue to support the work of the Forced Marriage Unit. We will replace income thresholds with a prohibition on recourse to public funds. New rules will be equally informed by negotiations with the EU and other partners, including the Commonwealth. (page 28)

At the time of its publication, many of us wondered why it said ‘indefinite detentions’ and not ‘indefinite detention’. Unlike the Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Party’s manifestos, the Labour Party did not specify how long a time limit should be. Since then, the Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, publicly announced that the Labour Party is committed to introducing a time limit of 28 days.

The Labour Party also pledged to end indefinite detention in their 2015 election manifesto: in fact, their manifest said more about immigration detention in 2015 than in 2017:

We will enforce immigration rules humanely and effectively. We will end the indefinite detention of people in the asylum and immigration system, ending detention for pregnant women and those who have been the victims of sexual abuse or trafficking. (p.66)


The Liberal Democratic Party’s 2017 election manifesto was entitled Change Britain’s Future. Section 7, ‘Defend Rights, Promote Justice and Equalities’, is where immigration and asylum are mentioned.

Immigration and asylum are under attack. Immigration is essential to our economy and a benefit to our society. We depend on immigration to ensure we have the people we need contributing to the UK’s economy and society, including doctors, agricultural workers, entrepreneurs, scientists and so many others. Immigration broadens our horizons and encourages us to be more open, more tolerant.

 One of the commitments the party makes is:

End indefinite immigration detention by introducing a 28-day limit. (p.78)

Somehow, this pledge appears under ‘asylum’ – but we are assuming that it applies to all persons with irregular immigration status.

Liberal Democrats’ 2015 election manifesto also included a pledge to ‘End indefinite detention for immigration purposes’ (p.111), which indicates that the party’s position on the issue became more concrete between 2015 and 2017.


The Scottish National Party’s 2017 election manifesto document was called Stronger for Scotland. Its pledges on immigration policy appear in the section ‘An open, modern society’.

The SNP will continue to seek devolution of immigration powers so that Scotland can have an immigration policy that works for our economy and society. And we will stand firm against the demonisation of migrants.

Dungavel immigration detention centre is located in Scotland, where children used to be detained. Opposition to immigration detention has been strong in Scotland.

Reflecting this, Scottish National Party has the most detailed pledge on immigration detention:

SNP MPs will continue to press the UK government to limit immigration detention to 28 days. No other European country has indefinite detention. We continue to oppose the detention of children and vulnerable people, including pregnant women and people with mental illnesses. We will continue to call for the UK government to pursue alternatives to detention. (p.28)

Of all the party manifestos surveyed here, Scottish National Party has progressively advanced their detention reform position the most. All its 2015 election manifesto said on immigration detention was ‘(…) we will ask the UK government to conduct an early review of the current immigration detention system and regime, in order to deliver a fairer and more effective system as we move forward.’ (page 23)


Immigration detention is not mentioned neither in their 2017 nor 2015 election manifestos. However, Conservative MPs who were involved in the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Use of Immigration Detention consistently advocated for a 28 day time limit. And some new voices from the party are also supportive of the call.


Although the Green Party’s 2017 election manifesto does not mention immigration detention, the party has been running a campaign against indefinite immigration detention.

Eiri Ohtani @EiriOhtani