LONDON — British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday threatened to deport spouses who don’t learn English as part of a wider government effort to stamp out segregation and tackle radicalization.
Cameron also said the British government would spend £20 million ($28.6 million) on English lessons for women.
While the lessons will be targeted at immigrant woman from “isolated communities,” Cameron highlighted the Muslim community in particular, saying that there were 38,000 Muslim women in the U.K. who don’t speak any English, and 190,000 who spoke poor English.
"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,” he said.
Cameron said that migrants on a spousal visa will be tested after 2½ years, and if their English isn’t at a sufficient level, there is no guarantee they can stay in the U.K. even if they have British-born children. The new policy will come into force in October.
"You can't guarantee you will be able to stay if you are not improving your language,” he said, emphasizing that immigrants have both rights and responsibilities.
While he was keen to stress that there was no “causal connection” between language ability and extremism, Cameron said the the lure of extremist groups like the so-called Islamic State could be harder to resist for communities that don’t speak English.
Cameron faced criticism from the Muslim community and some politicians for linking the issues of English language ability and extremism.
The Muslim Council of Britain welcomed funding for English lessons, but said in a statement “the Prime Minister’s aim to have English more widely spoken and for better integration falls at the first hurdle if he is to link it to security and single out Muslim women to illustrate his point.”
Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said in a statement: “Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative Government are once again using British Muslims as a political football to score cheap points to appear tough.”
Andy Burnham, the Labour Party’s shadow home secretary, said that Cameron was “unfairly stigmatizing a whole community.”
Cameron's simplistic, headline-driven approach to extremism risks unfairly stigmatising a whole community, thereby making the problem worse.— Andy Burnham (@AndyBurnhamGM) January 18, 2016
Others, still, noted that the British government had earlier slashed funding for English language lessons, which critics have said bolstered social isolation in some communities.
Sayeeda Warsi, the former co-chairman of the Conservative Party, told the BBC that she supported extra funding for English language skills, but criticized the way it has been announced.
The “lazy and misguided linking” of the English language and radicalization, she said, took away from what was a positive announcement.
“Men and women of all backgrounds could benefit from better English training,” she said.