We need a migration policy fit for 21st Century Britain

There were many reasons why 17.4 million Britons voted to leave the European Union last June but there is general agreement that long-suppressed public concern about mass migration was one of the main reasons. That issue, more than any other, encapsulated just how we had lost our national sovereignty and handed too many key powers to Brussels.

Our lack of control had left consecutive governments unable to address voters’ concerns. Uncontrolled migration from the EU has led to depressed wages, segregated communities and placed an unbearable strain on public services and on housing. It isn’t rocket science to work out that if you accept net annual immigration of 350,000 and build fewer than 200,000 new homes, demand outweighs supply, so prices go up.

Now, as we start the process of leaving the European Union, we must look to how we are going to deliver on the wishes of the British people. In short, we must enact a new, bespoke immigration policy which controls overall numbers.

Leave Means Leave’s report, launching today, is the first serious attempt since the referendum to sketch out in detail what this new system should look like. Authored by the independent Member of the European Parliament, Steven Woolfe, it is a thoughtful, measured and constructive contribution to this vital debate about migration policy.

Recovering complete control of our national borders will be one of Brexit’s prizes. We must be bold – and we must develop a fair, forward-thinking and flexible policy which works in the best interests of the United Kingdom.

Steven Woolfe’s paper makes some very clear and considered proposals. First, we should remain steadfast in our desire to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands promised by the Coalition and Conservative governments. Last week, continuity Remain campaigners called on the Government to abandon this pledge, denouncing it as impossible to achieve and harmful to economic growth.

But by enacting a five year freeze on unskilled immigration – and ending family reunion for those on educational visas – we can very feasibly get back to mid-1990s levels of 50,000 a year. In turn, we must get the 826,000 Britons under the age of 24 who are currently unemployed or inactive, back into work or some form of training. This may lead to some small but significant wage inflation but many argue that is well overdue for many of our communities, particularly in the Midlands and the North.

The report proposes an immediate cut-off date for those citizens of other EU countries qualifying for indefinite leave to remain here. This is absolutely essential, not only to pre-empt a last minute rush but also to reassure those citizens of other EU countries already here.

A robust migration policy like the British Working Visa system proposed in today’s paper will not mean the UK pulling up the drawbridge. We will continue to attract top talent from around the world – and we will continue to welcome skilled workers at the rate we currently do – but we will be able to decide these matters as a sovereign nation state without any interference from Brussels. Ensuring that companies like Airbus and BMW, with plants across Europe, can continue to move skilled staff around those plants will be essential.

We will also treat EU and non-EU citizens equally.

Beyond the complex negotiations upon which our Government is about to embark, our major challenge is to seize the opportunities of Brexit. There is no greater opportunity than building a migration policy fit for 21st Century Britain.

April 10th, 2017: Brexit Central