This week in Hybrid Parliament, we saw the passing of the Second Reading of the Immigration and Social Security (EU Withdrawal) Bill. The Bill delivers on the Conservative manifesto promise to introduce a firmer and fairer points-based system that takes in people based on the skills that they have, not where they are from; EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally.
Countries use immigration policies for various reasons. Since the 1970s, Canada has adopted one of the most open immigration policies in the world to combat a shortage of skilled labour that was preventing economic growth. Other countries have a declining population which immigration will help to bolster; Japan has recently introduced a points based immigration system to this effect. Many countries, as we have seen across Europe, struggle to find the best way to deal with immigrants wanting to live and work there.
In the past two decades, the U.K. has seen an exponential growth in population, from 58.9 million in 2000 to 67.8 million in 2020. There is no doubt that immigration has become one of the public's most important issues. Migration policy is a core aspect of our national sovereignty and the Immigration Bill reflects the concerns of the British people and ends free movement, giving everyone the same opportunity to come to the UK regardless of where they come from.
Immigration will no longer be used as a replacement for investment in the domestic British workforce. We have an abundance of talent and skills in this country which must be developed and utilised. However, an eye will be kept on the occupation shortage list to ensure it reflects the needs of our labour force.
The U.K. is made up of a rich tapestry of people and as a country we are the better for it. It is right that people from all over the world are treated fairly, are treated equally as far as immigration into this country is concerned, under our rule of law. Most of us believe - except for those who support open borders - that countries should have the unalienable right to decide who gets to enter their land for work. To seek and to strive for such a right does not make us anti-immigrant, quite the opposite.
We have a rule of law allowing legal immigration from non-EU countries, but this has far too often been exploited by illegal migrants and people smugglers and traffickers. On our own beaches, most recently at Pett Level last Saturday, we have seen hundreds of such immigrants arrive. It is not right that those who have arrived here illegally are seen by some to have a presumptive right to stay.
People who avoid the law are not acting within the law and are therefore acting illegally. I have spoken at length with the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who will be introducing from the end of the transition period a single, consistent and firmer approach to criminality across the immigration system.
We do need to emphasise the difference between migrants and those seeking asylum or refuge – if we do not, it promulgates misconceptions about the most vulnerable; the refugees, for whom we need to provide the best possible sanctuary. We need to safeguard, protect and, I would argue, expand refugees’ rights.
Ultimately, we need to ensure that the British public has trust in our immigration system and remains welcoming of legal immigrants and refugees. This can be achieved with this new robust, fair and independent migration system controlled by the U.K., and making sure that illegal migrants do not have a presumptive right to stay.
Sally-Ann Hart MP