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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:20 pm on 28th January 2019.

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Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 9:20 pm, 28th January 2019

The hon. Lady is right. The notion of a temporary 12-month work visa for these people is abhorrent. How can we expect someone to go into the care sector and make relationships with the residents in a care home when they have to go after 12 months? How can we expect such people to integrate into the local community? How can we ensure that their training and productivity increases, which apparently we need to do? It is a nonsense approach to these so-called low-skilled workers, and I think that will be shown to be the case during the consultation on the White Paper.

It is argued that the 2016 referendum gave the okay and the mandate for ending the free movement of labour—it absolutely did not. That was not on the ballot paper. I accept that immigration was an issue, but I asked the Home Secretary at the beginning of the debate whether he thought people were voting on immigration or on free movement of labour. Many people did vote on immigration—not necessarily the majority, and not even the majority of leavers—and it was an issue, but the idea that the referendum came down to free movement of labour is nonsense.

It is worth remembering what some of the Conservative Brexiteers were saying at the time. Daniel Hannan MEP, one of the leading Tory Brexiteers, said the day after the referendum result:

“Frankly, if people watching think that they have voted and there is now going to be zero immigration from the EU, they are going to be disappointed.”

He also said:

“The idea of staying within a common market but outside the political integration, I think that is feasible”.

For his punchline, this arch-Conservative-Brexiteer said:

“It means free movement of labour.”

When we are told that the referendum gave a mandate for this Bill, it is simply not true, and the House should not stand for it, because many Brexiteers, including one of the chief ones, said during the referendum that it did not. If we want to protect our communities, our businesses and our economy, and to ensure that our sectors that are crying out for workers get them, we have to reject the Bill.

Let me take the House through three sectors. The first is the NHS. We know of the lies told about spending on the NHS, but what about the fabric of the NHS—the people working in it? There are 10,000 doctors who are EU citizens working in our NHS, and 20,000 nurses and 14,000 clinical support staff. In the past two years, we have had a net loss of 5,000 in the number of nurses from the EU. When we are looking at nursing vacancies of 41,000 in the NHS, how is the Bill going to help the NHS? Do you know what, Madam Deputy Speaker? Just to show that the Government are totally inconsistent and totally incoherent, on page 84 of “The NHS Long Term Plan” there is the wonderful phrase:

“The workforce implementation plan will set out new national arrangements to support NHS organisations in recruiting overseas.”

You could not make this nonsense up, and the Government should be ashamed of themselves. I think about my own constituency. When I talked to the management at Kingston Hospital, their No. 1 concern was this issue. It was not waiting times in A&E or resources, but their staff, the people who are leaving and the people who will not come here because of the nonsense in this Bill.

Let us move on to social care. EU workers already account for 5% of the total adult social care workforce in this country, which is about 1.6 million people. There are 110,000 vacancies up and down the country. How are those going to be filled? Do the Government think that people will be attracted by this nonsense? I am afraid that, again, it is a real let-down of the British people. The British people will feel betrayed when they realise what has been done in their name.

Let us take the construction industry. The Prime Minister is lyrical about the number of houses we need to build, and she is right, but 10% of construction workers in the UK at the moment are from the EU—84,000 of them—so how are we are going to build the 300,000 homes a year that we currently need if they are not made welcome? I think this is just shocking—a huge mistake.

Interestingly, I think the Government are completely behind the opinion of the British people: opinion has been changing. A recent poll said that 74% of British people are in favour of free movement within the EU. That is not a mandate for the Bill—quite the contrary.

Time is against me, so I will just end by saying that not only is getting rid of free movement of labour a huge historic mistake, but the Bill is a historic mistake. There are so many things wrong with the immigration system—there are no limits on detentions and there is a ban on asylum seekers working, and there is the complete incompetence and incoherence in the Home Office, as I see in my two surgeries every week when I meet people who are the victims of that incompetence—and there is so much to be done, but the Bill does nothing to solve those problems. The immigration system is not fit for purpose, and the Bill will make it worse and unfair. It is bad for our society and bad for our economy, and MPs from both sides of the House should reject it tonight.