Brandon Lewis is Minister of State for Immigration, and is MP for Great Yarmouth.
No country can be truly secure unless its borders are secure. At the same time, no country can successfully compete in the global race for wealth and prosperity unless it is open to trade and investment from businesses and individuals around the world. The United Kingdom has a proud history as an island nation that remains secure at home, yet forever open to what the world has to offer. So as we prepare to leave the European Union, the Government will be driven by these twin goals: keeping our borders secure and controlling who and what comes here, while building a global, outward-facing Britain that embraces opportunities wherever we can find them.
The UK will always remain an open and tolerant country; one that recognises the valuable contribution that migrants make to our society, and that will always welcome those with the skills and expertise to make our nation greater still. We have already set out our proposals to protect the rights of those EU citizens already living in the UK. After we have left the European Union, we will continue to attract the brightest and best who wish to work and study here, but control immigration so that we build a system that truly serves the national interest. The Government will be setting out further details of our approach in an Immigration Bill to be brought forward next year.
However, in my new role as Minister of State for Immigration, I want to crack down on illegal immigration, and make sure we are keeping out of our country those people who would do us harm. We must also ensure that our borders are as user-friendly as possible for those businesses and individuals who wish to come to our country, contribute to the ideas that enrich our society, and make the investments that will stimulate growth and create jobs.
Thanks to the brilliant work of my predecessors, we have already made substantial progress towards meeting these goals. Our impressive Border Force – set up by this government to replace Labour’s dysfunctional UK Border Agency, under which checks were often relaxed at passport control to manage the size of queues at the border – works tirelessly every day keep our country safe and make life easier for the thousands of passengers travelling into and out of the United Kingdom.
Indeed, the results are there for all to see: we now collect advance passenger information on 93 per cent of all passengers, compared to just under 60 per cent in 2009. We have denied entry to over 120,000 people since 2010, including nearly 11,000 EU nationals. And we have acted in the clear national interest by removing over 37,000 foreign national offenders since coming into government, with over 6,000 removed in the last year alone. Whereas the Labour Party had no plan to deal with foreign offenders, and would rather give greater priority to their rights than those of the great British public, we now have a working strategy in place that is protecting the public and saving the taxpayer money – and I want to build on this success.
But there is always more we can do if we are to build a borders system that makes life easier for passengers, boosts our economy and keeps our people safe. That is why just this week, I attended a roundtable at the Reform think tank to discuss how utilising a dynamic wave of new technologies will allow the UK to do just that: improve the experience for those who are entitled to come to our country, and allow us to make the most of the resources we have to respond to potential threats and enhance our security.
We are already investing in electronic passport gates (e-gates) to ensure passengers can undergo automated security checks that make their journey as quick and smooth as possible. E-gates enable Border Force to process a high number of low-risk passengers, thereby freeing up officers for high priority work where they are needed. 232 e-gates are now operational at 21 sites throughout the UK, and were used by over 40 million passengers in the last year alone. They have also been rolled out in Paris’s Gare du Nord to enhance the passenger experience on the Eurostar, with more planned for Brussels as well as further throughout the UK.
We also make sure that, prior to travel, passengers submit information about themselves that enables the police, Border Force and the National Crime Agency to work together and undertake important checks before individuals depart from or travel to the UK. By identifying previously unknown individuals involved in serious crime and terrorism-related activity before they travel, we are able to take the necessary action to stop them coming here and putting the public at risk. Since March 2015, more than 2,500 individuals have been prevented from travelling to the UK thanks to such schemes.
By harnessing and exploiting the growing power of technology, we can build a borders system that is both more secure against those who wish to enter our country and do us harm, yet simultaneously welcoming towards those who wish to enter and foster the enterprising, pro-growth environment that has forever been Britain’s hallmark. Improving the flow of passengers means we can do more with less: preventing the long queues that no one wants to see at the same time as ensuring our border is secure.
As negotiations with the European Union progress, we must remain focused on building that global Britain which will deliver wealth and prosperity across the whole country, while remaining safe here at home with control over our borders.