Immigration

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:01 pm on 26th June 2019.

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Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 2:01 pm, 26th June 2019

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and I agree with him.

In Labour’s first Opposition day debate after the 2016 referendum, we called on the Government to unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU nationals. If the Government had done this, we could have avoided the situation where, four months before we face a cliff edge, millions of EU citizens are still in limbo.

The SNP supported our amendment to the immigration Bill, which would make settled status a declaratory system, so EU citizens living in the UK would be automatically granted settled status, rather than having to apply for it. In rejecting a declaratory scheme, the Government often make the argument that the process in 1973 for the Windrush generation was declaratory, so we should make people apply to avoid a repeat of Windrush. I believe that that argument shows the Government have learned the wrong lessons from Windrush.

The Government are saying that Windrush people were illegally detained and deported, because they did not have the proper papers to prove they were in the UK legally. With EU citizens, the Government have decided to create a situation where people will still be detained and deported, but that will be legal because they have not applied for settled status in time. Just as the Government are not fulfilling their obligations to EU citizens, they are not fulfilling their humanitarian obligations to refugees.

The Prime Minister has consistently failed the most vulnerable child refugees. Even when forced to resettle children under the Dubs amendment, the Government closed the scheme after just 480 children had been resettled, rather than the 3,000 originally envisioned. Despite repeated calls from non-governmental organisations and MPs and a vote on the Floor of the House, the Government have failed to expand refugee family reunion. These rules have been under review for over a year. They do not require legislation to be enacted, and they would make an immeasurable difference to the lives of refugees in the UK. As we move beyond the failures of the past, we must start building an idea of what new immigration policy will meet the needs of our economy and build prosperity.

In December, the Government published a White Paper on immigration. Their own economic analysis predicts that the proposals would cost between £2 billion and £4 billion over the first five years. The proposed £30,000 salary threshold, in particular, would severely limit access to labour that many sectors in our economy desperately need. Take social care. The health and social care sector is dealing with serious workforce shortages, while demand is increasing. Across the UK, four in five European economic area employees working full-time in social care would have been ineligible to work in the UK under the proposed system. In Scotland, less than 10% of those in caring personal service occupations earn above £25,000, and none earns £30,000.

Labour and the SNP agree on our diagnosis of a broken immigration system. However, we do not agree entirely on the cure. The SNP has argued for a devolved immigration system, where Scotland is given the power to determine its own immigration rules. We believe this approach would be unenforceable, because there would be no way to distinguish between those who have a visa under the Scottish system and those who have a visa for the rest of the UK. We would either need visa checks along Hadrian’s Wall or we would have to rely on the hostile environment. Neither option is acceptable. Under a Labour Government, a devolved immigration system would be unnecessary. Our immigration system will be flexible and based on the needs of our economy, including Scotland’s, not on bogus migration targets.

In conclusion, the Prime Minister’s legacy will be a cruel and hostile immigration policy, which has harmed our economy and caused the Windrush crisis. Whoever is our next Prime Minister, they must commit to ending the hostile environment and introduce a 28-day time limit on immigration detention.