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It is a pleasure to follow Gavin Robinson. This Bill is one of many landmark Bills that the Government have introduced to establish Britain’s new post-EU framework. We had the Third Reading of the Agriculture Bill last week and will debate the Trade Bill this Wednesday; I would be keen to speak in that debate too, if you could put in a good word for me, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Collectively, these new Bills represent a transfer of power, authority and, crucially, responsibility back to this place and back to the British people. If the British people decide they want a different approach in future to agriculture, trade or immigration, they can now vote for it at a general election. My neighbour, my hon. Friend Dr Mullan, spoke brilliantly about this earlier. I wholeheartedly endorse his comments about the misrepresentation and weaponisation of the term “low-skilled” by some Opposition Members. I had hoped that the cynicism of Corbynism might depart with its figurehead, but clearly the new Leader of the Opposition cannot stop its momentum.
It is unsurprising that those who were always against leaving the European Union and sought to overturn the referendum result are now seeking to oppose these Bills. They did not listen to the people then, and they are still not listening. Even now, they are playing for time and hoping, like Mr Micawber, that something will turn up to derail the transition process. But we have left the European Union, which means that, for the first time in more than 40 years, we can deliver control of immigration by ending freedom of movement and replacing it with a considered and considerate approach that will command the trust of the British people. The Bill will introduce a new system that is fair and simple and that will level the playing field, attracting the brightest and best to live, work and make their lives here in the UK, regardless of where they are from. When we do that, we will give top priority to the skilled workers we need to boost our economy and support our public services.
We will continue to welcome doctors and nurses from around the world to support our NHS, which is particularly welcome at this moment of national emergency, as we deal with coronavirus. I pay tribute to all those NHS workers—immigrants or otherwise—who have gone above and beyond in these last few months in helping to respond to this terrible pandemic. The new NHS visa will offer fast-track entry to the UK for qualified overseas doctors and nurses and will provide three to five-year work visas with reduced up-front fees, and we have already removed doctors and nurses from the tier 2 visa cap.
Similarly, as a member of the Science and Technology Committee, I welcome the Government’s intention to make it easier to attract leading scientists, engineers and mathematicians to come and work in the UK. More generally, I know that the Government are listening to advice to ensure that this new immigration system will be flexible enough to meet the needs of businesses and essential services. They have responded to the call from the independent Migration Advisory Committee to lower the general salary threshold, and they have tasked that same committee with keeping the shortage occupation list under regular review. This bodes very well.
It is also important that the Bill will protect the long-held rights of Irish citizens, recognising our deep, historic ties with the island of Ireland and the contribution that Irish citizens have made to the UK. Once free movement ends, Irish citizens will continue to be able to come to the UK to live and work, as they do now, regardless of where they have travelled from. The wider rights enjoyed by Irish citizens in the UK, which flow from the common travel area arrangements, will also be maintained.
The Bill and the new points-based immigration system obviously represent a significant departure for our country, but one that emphasises and reinforces a positive social change. We remain one of the most welcoming and tolerant countries in the world, and, as Ipsos MORI recently found, people are more willing than ever to say that immigration has had a positive impact on Britain, a sentiment I have always shared. Some see this as ironic, or as proof of a buyer’s remorse with regard to the leave vote and the end of freedom of movement, but I believe it is quite the opposite. It is precisely that sense of control and democratic accountability that has driven this change.
It is absolutely clear that delivering control of our borders, with regard to both the total numbers coming and the skills they bring with them, was something that the British people, and my constituents in Newcastle-under-Lyme, were asking for in both the 2016 EU referendum and the 2019 general election. The Government set out in their manifesto at that election that they would deliver a new points-based immigration system to attract the best talent from all around the world, as the Bill enables. The British people have demonstrated in two historic votes that they want an approach that returns control of our borders to this House—to them. We are listening to them, and we are delivering what they asked for.