Theresa May is under fire on immigration after prominent Eurosceptics demanded a five-year freeze on unskilled migration and a permanent annual cap of 50,000 on the number of new arrivals.
In a blueprint for Britain’s borders, the pressure group Leave Means Leave, which is backed by the former cabinet ministers Lord Lamont, John Whittingdale, Theresa Villiers and Peter Lilley, as well as 15 other Conservative MPs, today calls for a return to the net migration figures of the mid-1990s once Britain has left the European Union.
The five-year freeze on unskilled migrants would reduce immigration by about 170,000 a year from its current level of 273,000. Skilled migrants could get a working visa only if they had a job to come to paying at least £35,000 a year and had passed an English language test. They would also need health insurance to prevent dependency on the NHS and “satisfactory” savings.
Under the plan, migrants would receive the same rights to in-work benefits as UK nationals only after five years, ensuring that they had paid into the system before they could claim.
The paper contradicts the prime minister’s stated view last week that free movement from the EU might have to continue for several years after Brexit. May has dropped plans to grant benefit rights to EU migrants in Britain only to those who were here when she triggered article 50 on March 29. The cut-off will now be when Britain leaves the EU in the spring of 2019.
The paper says May should activate the cut-off now to prevent an influx of migrants over the next two years.
Sir Gerald Howarth, a former defence minister who is on the group’s advisory board, welcomed a cap of 50,000, covering both skilled and unskilled migrants, and said it was “right to propose an immediate cut-off date for those citizens of other EU countries qualifying for indefinite leave to remain”.
The paper, written by the former Ukip MEP Steven Woolfe, now an independent who is talking to the Tories about joining them, also proposes a temporary work permit scheme for seasonal agricultural workers who could stay for up to six months, with the number issued reduced each year.
Owen Paterson, a former environment secretary, said: “Mass migration has fostered resentment, depressed wages and placed an excessive burden on public services. It is perfectly possible to have a system that works for business but returns us to the net migration levels of the mid-1990s.”
April 9th, 2017: Times