Priti Patel is an elected Member of the Conservative Party Board, the 1922 Committee’s Executive and the Public Administration Select Committee. She is also a member of the Party’s Policy Board and MP for Witham.
Cutting the levels of immigration coming into the UK has been a major priority for Conservatives in Government. Unlike Labour and the Liberal Democrats, we have responded to public concerns about immigration. We have taken concerns about immigration seriously, and set about implementing new policies to curtail the numbers of migrants entering and staying in the UK.
Our policies are now making a real difference, which means that levels of immigration to the UK are being reduced, foreign national criminals are being removed, and tough new controls have been placed on the ability of nationals of other EU member states to claim benefits in the UK. While the public consistently consider immigration to be one of the most important issues to them and how they plan to vote, only the Conservative Party is prepared to take action to protect our borders and to defend British jobs. To see how much the immigration system has improved over the last four years under the guidance of Conservative ministers, we need to look at the scale of Labour’s failures and the state of the system we inherited.
During Labour’s time in Government, their decision to open the door to millions of migrants with no effective controls has scarred our political landscape, and had significant economic consequences across the economy. Three million migrants could have come to Britain, with a further million entering or staying here illegally. The number of Eastern Europeans soared many times over the estimated 5,000 a year that Labour said would come when the EU’s membership expanded in size and extended into Eastern Europe. Within the space of a few years, Polish has become the second most widely spoken language in the UK behind English.
As thousands of Eastern Europeans arrived each month offering cheap labour, youth unemployment rose among UK nationals and surpassed a million. In one year alone, close to 600,000 immigrants came into the UK, as foreign nationals took on increasing numbers of posts and filled around three-quarters of the new jobs established. Whereas our political opponents would rather see the consequences of immigration on this scale ignored, as Conservatives we know of the impact caused in communities across the UK and of the need to take sensible steps to address these problems.
We know the pressures that have been placed on jobs, housing, schools, the NHS and other public services by Labour’s policy of uncontrolled immigration. Importantly, we understand the effects this has on everyday life. With Labour’s failed housing policies meaning that house building was far lower than needed, millions of migrants have contributed towards the demand-driven rises in house prices and rents. Additional language and support for the children of immigrants has also been introduced in some schools in areas where there is a high concentration of migrants, while GP surgeries have seen the numbers of patients registering with them rise.
The availability of benefits to migrants, particularly those from Eastern Europe who have enjoyed unrestricted access to the welfare system, has had an impact on the public finances and the public’s perception of immigration. It Is entirely understandable why so many people on the doorstep feel there needs to be tougher action to prevent abuse of the benefits system when immigrants are receiving child benefit to support somewhere in the region of 40,000 children living in other European countries. Failure to address a whole range of immigration-related issues has helped to create the anxiety that so many members of the public express up and down the county.
Recent research and analysis published by Migration Watch has also shown that while many Eastern Europeans work hard, because so many are low paid, their access to social benefits such as housing benefit and tax credits means that the net contributions they make to the Exchequer are minimal, if any. This research has revealed that about 150,000 people make a net contribution to the Exchequer of about £1 a week, while a couple earning the minimum wage might pay £28 net to the Exchequer a week, but could cost £380 per week if they had two children.
On top of this, Labour left a student visa system open to widespread abuse from bogus colleges, a backlog of asylum cases and human rights laws that were blocking the deportation of terrorists and criminals. It is a disgrace and damning indictment on Labour’s record in Government that they left an immigration system that was so ineffective, and riddled with an entrenched culture of incompetence that made Britain a laughing stock and open to abuse.
Since 2010, Conservatives have made real progress addressing all of these problems. Firstly, we made it clear from day one that Labour’s open door approach was abolished and that Conservatives were serious about regaining control of our borders. Our cap on migration from outside of the EU and commitment to bring down immigration numbers to a more sensible and sustainable level has been followed up with effective action and policies.
The new system of checks and controls on colleges wishing to sponsor foreign students has seen bogus colleges caught out and shut down. New rules on the family migration route now mean that spouses and relatives can no longer expect to automatically be allowed to enter the UK. The introduction of an income threshold for those wishing to bring in spouses and children is not only sensible, but it also helps prevent sham marriages and abuse of the immigration system.
New controls have also been placed on EU migrants wishing to come to the UK, which is in complete contrast to anything done by Labour. In advance of the transitional controls being lifted on Bulgaria and Romania, the Prime Minister announced that migrants from those countries would not be able to claim out of work benefits for at least three months, and that benefit payments would be stopped after six months unless there is a genuine prospect of finding work. He also announced that housing benefit would not be paid immediately, and that migrants caught sleeping rough and begging would be deported and then banned from returning within a year. This has helped to deter Europeans from coming to the UK to abuse our benefits system, and we can be proud that the Prime Minister and Iain Duncan Smith have both had the strength to stand up to Europe’s complaints about these decisions.
On top of those significant reforms to the immigration system, strong action is being taken to remove those who break our laws. Those who support terrorism, such as Abu Qatada, are being deported and new prisoner transfer agreements, such as those agreed with Nigeria and Albania, are being negotiated so that more foreign nationals in prison can serve their sentences in their own countries. Diplomacy is also being used to facilitate the deportation of offenders at the end of their sentences, too. Serious and persistent foreign national offenders should expect to be moved from prison to plane out of Britain, and we are getting closer to achieving this outcome in more cases.
In addition, immigrants who overstay their welcome, illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers will soon face fewer opportunities to appeal and faster removal from the UK under the provisions in the Immigration Bill. The labyrinth of appeal mechanisms and application processes is being streamlined and, alongside the breakup of the discredited UK Border Agency, we are taking action to ensure that the UKs immigration system is no longer the soft touch it was.
Because Conservatives in Government have developed the most comprehensive and wide-ranging set of reforms to immigration policy ever introduced, we have been able to bring net migration down. We have also been able to welcome those who bring long term economic value to our county and want to invest in Britain while clamping down on abuse and benefit tourists. And we have taken action so that more British nationals and young people are finding employment as the economy grows, and has created 1.7 million new jobs since 2010. This contrasts with what happened under Labour, when most newly created jobs went to immigrants. As a result, public confidence is now beginning to be restored in our immigration system.
In the days, weeks and months ahead when campaigning on the doorstep, we can be clear to voters who have concerns about immigration that effective action from the Conservative Party is making a real difference. We can be proud of the ever-growing list of achievements and positive actions being taken by Conservatives in Government. And we can be confident that our track record on reducing immigration and introducing tougher controls is in line with the views of the British people.