Binita Mehta-Parmar is Next Generation Director of Modern Britain and former Leader of Watford Council’s Conservative Group.
When I first realised that I was a Conservative in 2008, I understood I was a somewhat rare creature. At Party events, if you had a non-white face, you definitely stood out in the crowd. At the time, we had one brown and one black MP, and tiny numbers of councillors from ethnic minority communities. In most constituencies or wards where there were significant black or ethnic minority communities, Conservative associations were at their weakest. In short, for most Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) voters, supporting the Tories was barely an option.
How things have changed. I have always been a proud to call myself British, but it no longer feels as though I am a lone voice within my community. It is possible that, after the next general election, our Party might even have a larger number of ethnic minority MPs than Labour. But the Conservatives are still struggling to attract significant votes outside Indian and Bangladeshi communities. One reason is that our Party’s determination to control our borders and sensibly limit the number of new migrants is often portrayed as being hostile to all migrants.
It is time to put that right. I believe that we have a unique opportunity to show to citizens of every colour and background that only the Conservatives have the right, balanced approach that benefits British citizens and newcomers alike. In short, we can both control migrant numbers and not lose out economically.
That is the basis for the first Modern Britain report that is published today, entitled The New Migration Contract.
One example perfectly illustrates Britain’s split personality in our attitudes towards migration. Currently, citizenship ceremonies where migrants become British are held in soulless, dingy town halls. A portrait of the Queen is propped up on an easel and the national anthem is played out of some tinny speakers. For the migrant and their families, these are often emotional, proud, and significant moments; for everyone else they are invisible. In Australia, they do things differently: new citizens are celebrated as full members of the community publicly on Australia Day, where many existing Aussies join them to reaffirm their status.
Our first proposal sounds superficial, but is hugely symbolic of our new approach. Why not take our citizenship ceremonies out of town halls and instead host them during major British cultural and sporting events, such as the FA Cup Final, Wimbledon, Glastonbury, or the Edinburgh Tattoo?
Swearing allegiance to the Queen and recognising the values of our country is the ultimate display of Britishness. That is why it is right to celebrate those occasions as important – not just for the new citizen, but for our country as a whole.
After Brexit, Britain will have a unique ability to control immigration. We need to use this opportunity to attract the migrants our country needs for future economic success and in turn give newcomers the tools they need to integrate quickly. Two incompatible factors distort our current immigration policy: the open borders that come with EU membership and the net annual migration target of 100,000. By obliging the Government to bear down on non-EU migration, it causes illogical and undesirable outcomes. For example, students, tech entrepreneurs and highly skilled engineers from outside the EU are far less likely to gain entry to the UK than coffee shop baristas from Spain or farm labourers from Romania. Post-Brexit, we can decide which types of migrants we should seek to attract from anywhere in the world.
The New Migration Contract proposals include:
- Increasing the net number of highly skilled migrants to 50,000 from anywhere in the world, while significantly reducing low-skilled immigration. This would be permitted only for strictly limited sectors of the economy, where there is a demonstrable shortage of labour is that cannot be filled, for example, by increased wages or capital investment.
- A new £600 million Immigration Mitigation Fund – or £2,000 per new migrant – that councils could bid for on a competitive basis to help cope with extra demand on local public services. This would operate in a similar way to the Government’s existing City Challenge programme for infrastructure spending.
- The creation of a single government agency to replace the four departments that currently manage asylum. This new Asylum and Integration Agency would help to ensure refugees learn English and other skills to enhance their employability. In return, the Government would need to fund English classes properly across the country. Asylum seekers would be allowed to work while their cases are considered and enabled to return to their country of origin once it is safe.
- The introduction of an annual rolling refugee target of 20,000, with flexibility to bank unused places or bring forward future allocations to cope with wars or major humanitarian crises. I return, there would be a ‘returns’ target for illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers set at 70,000 a year.
These new policies would, over time, earn the Government the credibility to demonstrate that it had serious, effective solutions to control migration without harming our country’s economic prospects. Together, these ideas would help to build a new realistic national consensus on immigration for modern Britain.
Modern Britain has published its first research paper on The New Migration Contract. For more information, visit www.modernbritain.org.uk or see @Modern_Brit.