Andrew Bridgen is MP for North West Leicestershire.
For many years, immigration has been creeping up the chart of opinion pollsters lists of top voter concerns, and the strength of worries about it has now reached such a pitch that they are turning away from the mainstream parties, since they see no evidence that they are being addressed.
Before Tony Blair came to office, net immigration was not really a political issue, it rarely hit significant levels and was certainly measured in the tens rather than the hundreds of thousands. But from 1997 onwards, there was an explosion in net immigration, with numbers not only exceeding six figures, but consistently reaching well in excess of 250,000 a year.
During the early years of this Government, Immigration started to come down and at one stage was down by a third compared to the previous levels seen under Labour. However, it is no coincidence that, in recent months, net immigration figures have picked up again as migration from with the EU has increased massively – unsurprisingly as the UK economy booms and the Eurozone slips back into recession.
The fact that immigration figures are so high whilst net immigration from outside the EU has been cut by more than 50,000, and is at its lowest levels since the 1990s, clearly indicates that for as long as we have free movement of labour and a booming economy, there is nothing we can do to reduce immigration from within the EU while we are locked into our current treaties. The fact is that over the last four years the UK has created more new jobs (1.8 million) than the rest of Europe added together, and the unemployed of the rest of the EU are understandably attracted to our country and our economy.
This increase in immigration has had several effects. At the same time as net immigration has averaged over 200,000, millions of workers have seen their pay at a standstill, and are looking for reasons why. The fact is the UK is booming and unemployment is falling. I know this from my own constituency of North West Leicestershire, which is one of the fastest growing districts in the country: Leicestershire is set to grow by up to five per cent this year.
As this continues, businesses will need to recruit more staff. The point when those who are unemployed have been unemployed on a long term basis will present the best opportunity we will have to return them back to work. However, employers would prefer a new wave of immigrants who are keen enough to travel across a continent to fill the jobs they are creating. This will be of no help to those left unemployed and to the Government’s welfare budget.
There is also the effect of increased net immigration on our public services such as the NHS to be considered – that’s the National Health Service, not the international health service. The NHS is funded by the British people: not by the EU but, by the people of this country. Professor Meirion Thomas, a senior consultant in the NHS who has researched this issue thoroughly, believes the cost of Health tourism to the NHS hits the UK taxpayer to tune of billions of pounds annually. At a time we have medical staff striking over their pay, imagine what could be done to improve our NHS further without these added burdens on our health services.
There has been a lot of talk about Conservative/UKIP pacts lately – but I believe such a policy is totally unnecessary. I am asking the Prime Minister for a commitment that we apply the same criteria to those wanting to migrate from within the EU as those wanting to migrate from outside the EU. We should be looking to bring in the brightest and the best – and it makes no sense that we reject migrants from outside the EU who would make a significant contribution to this country whilst at the same time having an open door for anyone inside the EU to work in the UK.
A points based immigration system applied to all potential migrants is, in my view, the only way that we will cut our net migration figures to the levels we had before the last Labour Government and still provide the skills we need to allow our economy to continue to grow. This treaty change will have to form one of our “red lines” in our renegotiations with the EU over our membership terms, prior to the In /Out referendum that a Conservative Government alone will deliver.