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European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:12 pm on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk 8:12 pm, 25th March 2019

It is fair to say that freedom of movement works both ways. Of course, if we end free movement for those coming to this country, there will be an impact on our rights when we go to our nearest neighbours. We must ask ourselves a profound question in the context of the EU debate: would our country still vote to leave on the basis of concerns about immigration if people knew that the result of ending free movement would be that immigration would not decrease, but that we as citizens would face reduced rights in going to other countries in Europe, such as having to pay charges and fill in visa applications, at least for work and reasons other than tourism?

Let us look at the facts. The latest figures show that net migration into this country from the EU is down to 57,000. Net immigration into this country from outside the EU is up to 261,000. A year ago, the two top countries in the list were Poland and Romania, and they are now India and China. We are not talking Liechtenstein in population terms here. That is a serious point.

I remember the referendum campaign, in which I took an active part. I did home and away debates with my neighbour my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin. To anyone who claims that immigration was not a reason for the vote, I say that, yes, there are many people who for many years believed in leaving the EU for reasons of sovereignty—I strongly respect that view, which is based on a noble principle of democracy—but I know that what swung many undecided people in my constituency was house building in the countryside. Why? Because they believed that if we left the EU, there would be no immigration and we would not need those houses. It sounds crazy, but I have got the emails to prove it, and colleagues will know it.

Immigration was front and centre of the leave campaign. We remember Nigel Farage standing in front of a poster of the new Untermenschen. Mr Speaker, you know the meaning of that word—it has a very serious meaning. The poster showed a whole column of people and the implication was that if we left, what it depicted would not happen. We know that that campaign played with fire. It opened Pandora’s box, and somehow we have to put the lid back on. When I raise the matter, I do not do it happily. I am personally relaxed about immigration to this country because I recognise the huge contribution immigrants have made and will continue to make.

However, we must now be honest and say to the country that in the coming days, options will come before us in which free movement is back on the table. What if it is the case that keeping free movement will enable us to control immigration in future by having the strictest possible rules on immigration from 90% of the world population?