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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:20 pm on 18th May 2020.

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Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye 6:20 pm, 18th May 2020

Importantly for this country, which has always welcomed immigrants, the Bill will enable the alignment of treatment of EU and non-EU citizens as part of our future immigration system. The Bill reflects the concerns of the British people and ends free movement, giving everyone the same opportunity to come to the UK, regardless of where they come from. In line with our manifesto commitments, there will be no automatic route into the UK for foreign workers with few formal qualifications. We can attract the talent and skills from around the world that our economy needs as we emerge from coronavirus. The new, fair immigration system will be flexible and in line with advice from the Migration Advisory Committee, which will keep the occupation shortage list under regular review to ensure that it reflects the needs of our labour market.

Immigration will no longer be used as a replacement for investment in the domestic British workforce. We have an abundance of talent and skills in this country, which must be developed and utilised. Most of us, except for those who support open borders, believe that countries should have an unalienable right to decide who gets to enter their land for work. To seek and strive for such a right does not make us anti-immigrant—quite the opposite. The UK is made up of a rich tapestry of people, and as a country we are the better for it. It is right that people from all over the world are treated fairly and equally, so far as immigration into this country is concerned, under our rule of law. We have a rule of law allowing legal immigration from non-EU countries, but it has far too often been exploited by illegal immigrants and people smugglers and traffickers. It is not right that those who have arrived here illegally are seen by some to have a presumptive right. People who avoid the law are not acting within the law, and are therefore acting illegally.

I welcome the introduction, from the end of the transition period, of a single, consistent and firmer approach to criminality across the immigration system. In my constituency of beautiful Hastings and Rye, we have seen hundreds of migrants land on our shores in small boats from France, most recently at Pett Level at the weekend. They are not refugees, as some insist on calling them. They are migrants, who move for a variety of reasons but who generally make a conscious choice to leave their country to seek a better life elsewhere. They are free to return at any time if things do not work out as they had hoped or if they wish to visit family members and friends left behind.

Refugees are forced to leave their country because they are at risk of, or have experienced, persecution. Their concerns are of safety and human rights, not economic advantage, and as such they seek asylum in the first safe country that they arrive in. Many have experienced trauma or have been tortured, causing them to risk their lives in search of protection. They are not free to return to their homelands unless the situation that forced them to leave improves.

Worryingly, we have seen unaccompanied children arrive who are thought to be victims of trafficking. The people who have been landing on our beaches are coming over from France via unauthorised, illegal crossings, having paid thousands of pounds to a criminal—a people smuggler—to do so. I want to be clear: we must press down hard on those exploiting the vulnerable and using them as part of their human trafficking system. Those making the perilous journey across the English channel are risking their lives by doing so, and we must discourage these journeys. We must ensure that those caught up in human trafficking gangs and smuggling rackets are protected and that those orchestrating the journeys are stopped.

France is a safe country. They are not fleeing persecution. Under EU law—the Dublin regulation—asylum must be sought in the first country people arrive in. Furthermore, many have travelled through a number of safe European countries before arriving in France and then going on to UK. If we do not emphasise the difference between migrants and those seeking asylum or refuge, it promulgates misconceptions about the most vulnerable—the refugees, for whom we need to provide the best possible sanctuary. We need to safeguard and expand refugees’ rights and protect them.

Ultimately, we need to ensure that the British public have trust in our immigration system and remain welcoming of legal immigrants and refugees. That can be achieved with the new, robust, fair and independent migration system controlled by the United Kingdom, making sure that illegal migrants do not have not a presumptive right to stay—