Immigration is a good thing for the United Kingdom, but more than that, immigration has shaped many aspects of life in today’s United Kingdom. People have come to this country from overseas for centuries, bringing their skills, ideas and cultures. For the last 40 years, however, people wanting to live here have been treated in different ways based not on what they can offer, share or contribute, but purely on whether or not they came from the European Union. Those from some of our oldest allies, such as the United States, and from our greatest friends in the Commonwealth, such as Australia, New Zealand, India and Pakistan, have all been treated differently. In fact, it has been worse than being treated differently—it has been discrimination. This Bill will end the discrimination and replace it with equality and fairness.
In the referendum on the EU, along with 17.4 million people, I voted to leave because I wanted to the UK to take back control of its laws, money and borders. But I did not want to close the borders and say no to immigration —far from it, I wanted to say, “We welcome the people who want to come to the UK to contribute, to make this an even better country.” If someone from Spain wants to come here to do that, excellent. If someone from South Korea wants to come here to do that, excellent. With this Bill, from now on they will both have an equal chance, a fair opportunity—a level playing field, if you will.
During this horrendous coronavirus pandemic, we have all seen the massive contribution to the NHS from thousands of staff who have come from overseas to settle in this country. At some time in our lives, each and every one of us is likely to have been diagnosed, treated or nursed by healthcare professionals who were born abroad. I want that to continue and for the NHS to have access to the best talent, the greatest minds and the most compassionate carers, wherever in the world they come from. Nothing in the Bill will change that.
Of course, immigration cannot be unlimited. No country in the world would be able to support that. What is more, the British people have made it clear that they want lower overall immigration and an end to free movement by citizens of the EU. The Bill delivers their mandate. It paves the way for deciding who should be allowed to live and work here, using a points-based system that delivers for our economy and society. It can be adapted and tailored to the UK’s needs. It will encourage businesses to focus on developing and training the British workforce in lower-skilled occupations while ensuring that they have ready access to the cream of the global skill and talent pool. The tradeable characteristics in the points-based system and ongoing reviews by the Migration Advisory Committee provide flexibility over salary and skills that will ensure that employers can hire the right people at the right time to boost our productivity and improve our public services. It is a system that is firm and fair, clear and coherent. Coming from a constituency with a large number of microbusinesses, I just ask that sufficient focus and attention are devoted to small firms to ensure that they have the guidance and support they need to implement these new measures at a time when they already face considerable challenges resulting from coronavirus.
I also welcome the benefits that the Bill will bring to our border security. Stricter controls will help to ensure that serious criminals cannot come to our country to commit offences and create more victims of crime. Can anyone really disagree with that? Too often as a magistrate, I saw criminals who had been able to come into the UK unchecked because of EU free movement. I am therefore pleased that in future, we will have the right automatically to reject EEA migrants with criminal convictions, and I look forward to seeing further details of the proposed mechanics of that later in the Bill’s progress.
Some people have said that this is the wrong time to introduce this Bill. I respectfully disagree. At a time when we are encouraging the country to try to go about its business while staying safe and alert, we in this House, too, should be going about our business, delivering the legislation that we promised in December’s election. This is the right time for this Bill. It helps to set the shape of the country that we will become in the years and decades ahead, paving the way for a strong, dynamic recovery from a health crisis that has crippled the globe, welcoming the best and brightest, equally judged and free of favour, and unshackled from the EU, open to the world—the United Kingdom, rightly in control of its own borders.