The future of immigration policy was one of the most emotive subjects of the Brexit 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.
Rapid levels of population growth put severe pressure on our public services. For example North Shropshire has experienced an increase in demand for school places; the proportion of pupils who speak English as an additional language in a primary school in Oswestry is above the national average. Access to healthcare suffers as well; I have received letters from constituents who are unable to register with a dentist due to high levels of demand.
To meet the rising need for housing it is estimated that the UK will need to build 300,000 homes a year, or one every two minutes. This constant pressure to build houses is deeply unpopular in villages and market towns.
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 which they bring. In that spirit, and in the finest of British traditions, the United Kingdom will continue to provide a welcome and a home to visitors from abroad. Whether they are eye surgeons from Bangalore or skilled abattoir workers from Eastern Europe, it is manifestly in our national interest to be as open as possible in attracting the best talent from right across the world.
To take just one example, there are an estimated 67,000 seasonal workers of non-UK origin in UK agriculture, doing an enormous amount of vital work. The last Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Scheme came to an end in 2013 – when freedom of movement was extended to Romania and Bulgaria – but a new scheme will need to be devised once freedom of movement ceases. The new system will need to be flexible and forward-thinking, ensuring among other considerations that welfare standards for employees are maintained. Schemes of this type have enjoyed success elsewhere; New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme in particular has been suggested as international best practice. In the months and years ahead, we must be alive to the lessons we can learn from all around the world. A truly global perspective should inform our thinking across the whole range of immigration policy, from refuge and asylum to educational opportunities and the most highly skilled.