Brandon Lewis is Minister of State for Immigration, and is MP for Great Yarmouth.
The British people were clear in June last year that they wanted to retake control of their borders and change the way our immigration system works. December’s European Council meeting saw us take one step closer towards that goal, and minds across government now turn towards the next stage of the negotiations.
As Immigration Minister, I have been clear that, as part of this process, it is our ambition to reduce net migration to sustainable levels. This will help restore faith in our immigration system and ensure that people who live and work here legally can feel more confident about the work we are doing to build a fairer country – one that truly works for all of us.
It will restore faith amongst those who go through the process of coming here legally and properly, as they are some of those who care most about ensuring that everyone plays by the same rules; rules they themselves have had to follow and navigate in order to build the better lives that they rightly sought.
And it will also restore faith amongst the population as a whole. Society needs to feel more confident that those who come here do so to contribute to the cultural, social and intellectual life of country; that they bring their diverse range of talents with them to the benefit of all of us. Both those who arrive here in need of international protection and those who economically migrate to the UK add to the knowledge, skills base and economic dynamism of our country – and will always be welcome here.
With this, an important part of this process of restoring faith in our immigration system and making society confident in our ability to control of our borders means we must do more to remove those who are in our country illegally.
Our work to develop and deliver a compliant environment goes some way to addressing this problem, by ensuring that people here illegally are encouraged to go through the process to formally legalise their position, or return home voluntarily. For instance, we are working closely with our partners in the police and local authorities to crack down on rogue landlords and rogue employers who abuse the system at the expense of everyone else and make it easier for illegal migrants to live and work here. We have also brought into force important measures which will enable us to take action early next year to close or freeze bank accounts being operated by illegal migrants.
But there is more we can do, which is why I am committed to doing all we can to remove foreign national offenders from the UK; those who come here and turn out to have a serious criminal record; and those who come here but then abuse the warm welcome they receive and turn to criminality instead.
My message is clear: we will do everything in our power to return criminals to their home country at the earliest opportunity. And we are constantly redoubling our efforts to do so – whether it is working to deliver our policy aims within the remit of recent court rulings that have hampered our ability to deport criminals, working with the police to reveal overseas criminal offences, or developing our ability to monitor electronically those who are subject to deportation, we will make sure that the safety of our citizens and the security of our country always comes first.
And our record so far is a strong one: since 2010 we have successfully returned over 41,000 foreign national offenders, with a record high number achieved this year; we have also denied entry to over 120,000 people since 2010. Whereas Labour had no plan to deal with foreign offenders, and would rather give greater priority to their rights than Britons here, we are getting on with the job of securing our borders and protecting the public.
I am proud to say that colleagues at both the Ministry of Justice and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office are working hard to support the Home Office in this work: I thank them for their continued support to keep our country safe. I will continue to work with our Immigration Enforcement teams and lead work across government to look at what more we can do to identify criminals from overseas, and strengthen the necessary means to remove them.
The referendum result in 2016 was both a vote to leave the European Union, but also to change the way our country works – to build a better, fairer Britain. By taking back control of our borders, we can and will deliver this goal, and deliver a fairer immigration system that has the confidence of the society it serves.