Brandon Lewis is Minister of State for Immigration, and is MP for Great Yarmouth.
The immigration debate in this country is, too often, an uneasy one – and not simply in the context of our departure from the European Union. The reality of it requires us to be both open and pragmatic both in terms of what our ambitions should be, and how we go about delivering them. The Conservative Party is leading the work in this area, and can continue to lead this debate by making the case for an immigration system that not only ensures that we have control of our borders, but is compassionate too.
Following the British people’s vote last year, we are leaving the European Union and taking back border control. Our proposals on how to do so will be brought forward in legislation next year, followed by the advice of the independent Migration Advisory Committee which will report in Autumn 2018. In so doing, we will drive our commitment to get net migration down to sustainable levels.
We are an open, tolerant country with a long history of positive and fair migration; it has helped to power our economy and is something which we should welcome and must continue. But an effective immigration system is not simply a question of who can and cannot enter our country at the border. It is also about creating an environment here at home which encourages those people we want and need, while simultaneously discouraging others from entering illegally, and working to return those who are already here erroneously.
That is why this Government’s work to create a compliant environment for our businesses and industries is so vital. Indeed, it is often those who have come here legally and have built a life for themselves playing by the rules who are most eager for us to prevent those from coming here illegally: it is them, as much as everyone else, to whom we should be listening.
We owe it to those businesses which employ people legally, on fair wages and under fair conditions, to deliver a level playing field and build a system which provides them with the workforce they need – but which also ensures they are not undercut by rogue employers who deliberately disobey those rules and make the market unfair for the majority of those who do. We also owe it to those landlords who let only to legal migrants and in properties kept in safe and habitable conditions: they deserve to play on a level field, too.
And it isn’t just businesses and landlords who deserve to benefit – it is other people as well. No one should have to live or work in some of the horrible conditions that irresponsible landlords and rogue business owners force upon them; nor should they have to find themselves trapped at the mercy of exploitative traffickers and those who profit illicitly from their subjugation. Failing to act only creates a black economy that incentivises people from around the world to come here seeking what they falsely think is a good life, acting as a pull factor that is fair to none and unfair to all.
It is our duty therefore to create an environment where those who have come here legally are welcomed, respected and fully valued members of our society. And our progress so far, started by the Prime Minister as Home Secretary, is delivering results: we are making it less easy for those here illegally to rent a property, open a bank account, obtain a driving licence and find employment. We are also at the forefront of international efforts to crack down on the scar of modern slavery, following the landmark passage of the Modern Slavery Act last year.
At the same time, we are also ensuring migration continues for those parts of the economy that need it. Regular discussion is had around students, of which there is no limit to the number who can legitimately come here to study. Our universities saw a five per cent rise in their numbers last year – a good thing for our economy, our educational institutions, and Britain’s soft power around the world. And recent exit checks data shows that they are a compliant sector, highlighting the success of our reforms.
For despite the efforts of the Left to take the moral high ground, it is the Conservatives who are showing true compassion. We are the ones focused on preventing illegal migration which benefits no-one – neither our communities, our businesses, nor the people themselves who often risk perilous journeys to come here. And we are the ones focused on stamping out the blight of the black economy which does nothing more than incentivise exploitative traffickers and produce unacceptably squalid conditions for those living and working here.
As we focus on building a global Britain outside of the European Union, creating an immigration system which is both compassionate and controlled while delivering for our economy will be central to our aims. That is what we owe those who have already come here from all over the world and enriched our communities, strengthened our economy, and made our country a better place. Those coming here in the future – bringing all of their energy, dynamism and talents with them – will make us better still.