I believe that concerns about immigration were a key driver behind the referendum vote to leave the European Union.
It wasn’t just the overall level of immigration, which was particularly high at the time. There was also a feeling that we could not control the numbers because of the principle of free movement in the EU.
This week the Prime Minister said that when Britain leaves the EU, free movement will end. It will be replaced with a single, controlled immigration system based on people’s skills, not where they come from.
This will be a highly significant change. We will still be able to have immigration that benefits the economy where we need to bring in people with skills.
But the new system will aim to reduce overall and low-skilled immigration. The quid pro quo must be to train our citizens for the jobs of the future, so that they have the skills which businesses need.
The Government has already tightened the rules for people getting benefits and using public services without paying in, and introduced a surcharge so newly-arrived migrants contribute to the NHS.
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The new system will not give EU citizens any automatic priority over immigrants from other parts of the world. However, the Government has been clear that it will protect the rights of EU citizens who are already living in the UK. I know how important the treatment of EU citizens who live here is to many local people who have raised this with me.
The Government will publish a policy paper this autumn setting out how the new immigration system will work, after which immigration legislation will be published next year.
So there will be plenty of opportunity to debate the change. But the principle – that we should move to a skills-based, single system that is opened up to talent from across the world – is important because it honours the referendum result.
The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, announced further measures this week to address public concerns. He pointed out 700,000 people in the UK cannot speak a basic level of English.
So the Government will strengthen the English language requirements for all new citizens, as well as introducing a new values test.
As the Home Secretary said, Britain should welcome newcomers, but in turn it’s right to expect them to live by our values.
You can find further information, including the highlights of my diary each week, on my website: www.nickherbert.com.
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