Brexit must mean taking back control of Britain’s borders — and here is how.
Immigration ranked among the most emotive subjects of the referendum campaign. To the detractors on the Remain side, concerns over immigration amounted to nothing more than racism or xenophobia, but they are nothing of the kind.
Rather, the morphing of the free movement of labour established by the Treaty of Rome to the free movement of people established at Maastricht and confirmed at Lisbon is simply the clearest manifestation of the notion that we do not run our own country.
The overwhelming majority of Britons — emphatically including those who voted to Leave — feel absolutely no resentment towards workers or students from overseas, recognising and valuing the skills and experience they bring. However, mass migration at its present level has depressed wages and placed an excessive burden on our public services.
Once we have left the EU, it is vital that the government enacts a new bespoke immigration policy, such as a British working visa system, to bring immigration levels down to the tens of thousands.
Leave Means Leave’s new report, written by the Ukip-turned-independent MEP Steven Woolfe, provides the government with some interesting ideas for how this might work. He is to be commended for compiling a fascinating paper.
At this exciting time, when at last we have the opportunity to decide our own independent policies, it is important that the debate is shaped by considered, pragmatic voices. I hope that many of his proposals will be taken up and investigated further to shape a confident new approach, working in the best interests of the United Kingdom.
It is clear to me that the new system will need to be fair, flexible and forward-thinking, ensuring among other considerations that welfare standards for employees are maintained.
We will continue to provide a welcome and a home to visitors from abroad: whether they are eye surgeons from Bangalore or skilled agricultural or abattoir workers from eastern Europe, it is manifestly in our national interest to be as open as possible in attracting the best talent from across the world.
But we have to do more to address the uncontrolled inflow of unskilled labour and, in doing so, win back the trust of the British people.
The government must also move quickly to announce a cut-off date, a day from which new EU migrants into Britain will no longer have an automatic and indefinite right to remain post-2019. It is vital this is announced soon to avoid large scale and uncontrolled free movement over the next two years.
By enacting a new bespoke system it is perfectly possible to meet the requirements for British business but return us to the net migration levels of the mid-1990s. We can build a framework whereby 800,000 people under the age of 24, who are unemployed or in no form of education or training, are encouraged into work.
And we can continue to welcome the skilled workers, investors and entrepreneurs from all four corners of the globe.
The difference will be very clear and very simple. We will be able to control who comes and who goes. We will end the discrimination against non-Europeans. And we will make democratic decisions on overall numbers.
Brexit gives us the chance to build a migration system fit for 21st century Britain.
Owen Paterson is Conservative MP for North Shropshire and former secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs
April 10th, 2017: The Times