Nadhim Zahawi is a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and MP for Stratford On Avon.
Immigration is one of the biggest issues in British politics, and has been looming large for years. Whether they want to talk about it or not, it is now always one of the most talked-about issues in every political party, and features regularly in our day to day interactions with voters.
There are still some people who claim that it’s a subject that can’t be discussed and infer that any mention is taboo, but that’s just not true. Whether you’re reading newspapers, watching the news or scrolling through Twitter, so much of current affairs is either dominated by, or strongly linked to, immigration. In the last week, although admittedly boosted by Home Office questions, the word ‘immigration’ was mentioned 100 times in Parliament. The week before saw it raised on a further 61 occasions.
It’s undeniable that this is an issue that is spoken about regularly. And this is what makes it easy for parties like Labour to lull themselves into such a disastrous position on immigration. They let themselves feel that they merely need to say they ‘get’ the issue, or that they’re ‘listening to concerns’. But after doing their ‘listening’, their leadership remain convinced there should be no upper limit on immigration. They seem barely able to disguise their real thoughts; that those who wish to control immigration are just racists who have figured out how to use slightly craftier language.
And this is the problem: talking about immigration isn’t enough. When the majority of voters are telling you something, you should listen properly. And you cannot say you’re listening if you would never even countenance having your own view on the subject be influenced or changed. It is scarcely believable for Dianne Abbott to still be stating that Jeremy Corbyn ‘is not concerned about numbers’, and that the party isn’t seeking to reduce immigration – but it’s true.
Despite Labour’s obliviousness, we say again from the most recent immigration figures exactly why the current situation cannot continue. The fact remains that migration provides huge benefits to this country, with magnificent cultural and social influences in addition to the economic contribution. But we must have the right sort of immigration, and we need control, if we are to preserve this system at all.
650,000 people arriving in this country, with a net migration figure of 335,000, is obviously unsustainable. It does not matter what the medium or long-term benefits of immigration are: you cannot provide more housing, more schools or more hospitals overnight. The Casey Report last week showed how difficult integrating new arrivals into existing communities can be, and we do ourselves no favours with uncontrolled free movement.
We require an orderly immigration system, targeted at the areas of our economy that require skills and in numbers that local authorities and central government can actually plan for. Those of us who are supporters of immigration have, first and foremost, to ensure that our system is one worth our continued support. That means that our current situation must change in order to regain public consent.
It is simply unacceptable that in the last year, 127,000 people arrived in the UK looking for work. We want our economy to be open to the world, and utilise the finest talents our planet has to offer to generate new ideas, improve efficiency and enhance productivity – but we cannot be an international Jobcentre Plus. It is abundantly clear that we have to regain control on our exit of the European Union, and I’m proud that the Prime Minister is committed to delivering it.
We should have cross-party support on this issue, and it’s a shame that it is still not forthcoming. But whatever Labour do, at least the Prime Minister is listening. That is why, whenever the Prime Minister spells out her priorities for our Brexit negotiations, the control of free movement is always given top billing.
Free movement is unsustainable for our public services, unfair for those who have to compete for low wages with the huge numbers of the unemployed within the European Union economic disaster zone, and unacceptable to the majority of the British people. Removing ourselves from this terrible straightjacket will be one of the many great benefits delivered as we negotiate our exit from the EU.
The ending of free movement from the European Union should be celebrated by all of us who support immigration, the only ones who win from the disaster of free movement are the economic self-harmers who propose no immigration at all. We finally have a chance to regain control and we should all look forward to the Prime Minister delivering it.