Immigration and Social Security Co-Ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:20 pm on 28th January 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Conservative, Broxtowe 7:20 pm, 28th January 2019

I am not going to reply to the hon. Gentleman’s intervention because there is nothing for me to reply to, but I am sure we will all be enlightened later.

This is a very serious matter. I object to this Bill, and I will not be voting for it. First, I happen to believe in the free movement of people, and I have yet to hear anybody advance a single argument why the free movement of people has been anything other than good for this country—not one solid argument advanced. Secondly, the Bill does not provide the surety to EU citizens already living in this country that it should. Thirdly—many would say that this is the most important point and main failing of the Bill—it contains Henry VIII powers giving unbelievable, and simply unacceptable, powers and measures to Ministers.

I want to nail a few lies, not told in this place but put about in common parlance. We are told that in June 2016 the will of the people was to reject the free movement of people. My hon. Friend Jack Brereton nods, but that is not true. Of those people eligible to vote, 37% voted for us to leave the European Union. Even with my poor maths, I can see that 63% of the people of this country—in other words, the will of the people—was actually for us not to leave the European Union and not for us to abandon free movement. Those are the facts. That is the will of the people—the 63% who we never hear about. Ever since that referendum, we have had put about almost a tyranny of mistruths and myths. It is a shame on every politician that nobody has ever really stood up and spoken the truth of this matter. The majority of people in this country did not vote to leave the European Union, and they did not vote to end free movement. In any event, although 52% of those eligible to vote did vote for us to leave the European Union, one cannot extrapolate from that, on the basis of no evidence at all, that immigration was the overriding feature that led them to do so. In my constituency—the vote that was recorded was actually for the borough, which is larger than the constituency—we reckon that about 52% of those who voted did vote for us to leave.

Certainly in Broxtowe, and I think across the rest of the country, people voted for a variety of reasons. It is true that immigration played an important part. I think that one of the darkest moments in this nation’s history was when Nigel Farage stood up in front of a poster that showed a long line of people who had certain features in common. First, they were mainly men. Secondly, they were fleeing war, rape and terror, seeking refuge in a safe place. Oh yes, they all had brown faces as well, quite remarkably. The other feature of that long line of people, who had the headline above them, “Breaking point”—we all know what the dog whistle was in that headline—was that it had absolutely nothing to do with our membership of the European Union, if for no other reason than that we are of course not a member of Schengen.

Make no mistake about it: fears were undoubtedly fuelled and prejudices were undoubtedly preyed on by the leave campaign wrongly to make a phoney case to the people of this country that somehow by our leaving the European Union there would be a dramatic decrease in the number of migrants in our country. It was a great lie; a great con. The overwhelming majority of people who come to this country come here to work—they are givers, not takers. Therefore, if we want to reduce immigration, there is a very good way to do it—we trash the economy. We make sure that there are fewer jobs for these people to come to our country to fill. [Interruption.] Ah, Brexit, of course: whichever way we cut it, it will mean that our economic prosperity and the number of jobs available will be reduced. Perhaps that is actually the cunning plan.

I get irate with and frankly appalled by Conservative Members who should know better, because the truth and reality is, as I say, that people come here to work. What are hon. Members actually saying when they say, “Reduce the number of migrants.”? Send them home: is that what they are saying? No, of course not, because we need these people to work, not just in the fields of Lincolnshire, in our care homes or in our NHS, but throughout every stratum of industry in every piece of our economy. We need these people. As Caroline Lucas reminded us, this is a two-way process, because people in our country—my children and the grandchildren I hope to have—benefit, or would have benefited, from the free movement of people, but our country has benefited from immigration for centuries. I am saddened to the bottom of my boots that for so long we have never made the positive case for immigration in our country. Not surprisingly, we have found ourselves in the situation that we are in, where mythology, rhetoric, misinformation and downright lies have been spread by all manner of people to support their own ideological, short-term vision, with absolutely no foundation and at a real cost for our country and its future.

I am appalled and ashamed when I meet people with brown skins who were born and bred in this country—probably some of them more British than I am, because my great-grandfather was an immigrant—and who tell me that since the referendum they have been pointed at by people and asked, “Why haven’t you gone home?” I met one such constituent only the other week, who, when someone said that, turned round and said, “Well, actually I am on my way home, to Nuthall,” which is a place in my constituency. How many of us have heard from friends, from our constituents or from people we just come across with Polish or Slovakian accents who have been asked, “Why are you still here?” or have been spat at on public transport? This is not a country that I recognise. This is not a country that I feel proud to be a member of. I take the view that this is not our country. I also take the view that the majority of people in this country are good and they are tolerant, but too many of them have been told these lies.

It is now absolutely up to each and every one of us to stand up and make the case for immigration and to tell the truth about immigration. As I say, it is not just about the huge positive benefits for our economy—I think the last Treasury analysis showed something in the region of £4 billion extra going into the Treasury coffers—but it is for the culture of this country as well.

It is funny when people talk to their MP about immigration and say, “We’ve got too many of these immigrants,” and we say, “Do you mean the people running the Chinese takeaway, who have been here for decades?” and they say, “Oh no, not them.” We say, “Well, what about the people of Asian origin who are running the corner shop?” and they say, “Oh no, not them”. When we have that discussion and debate with them, we can make the case, because we are inherently a good and tolerant people.

As we have seen in many parts of our country, in any circumstances where there is a sudden influx of people—I am not being rude or disparaging about students—whether it is students or migrant workers, if we do not get the resources right, there will be people who are somewhat pickled off. But that is not a problem of immigration; it is a failure of this place and of local authorities, because it is a failure of resources. Most importantly, it is a failure of people to stand up to dog-whistle politics. I say to my party: if we pass measures like this Bill, the people of this country in time will not forgive us, because this party will become totally unelectable—and rightly so.