Exclusive – Migration Watch Slams Tories’ ‘Abject Failure’ on Borders After 11 Years in Govt

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It is eleven years since the Conservatives took power (originally in coalition with the Liberal Democrats) after fighting an election campaign in which one of their most prominent promises was to reduce net migration to the level it was in the 1990s — “from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands.”

The context then was that the United Kingdom had been blindsided by a left-wing policy of mass immigration devised by New Labour. A policy that had led to escalating immigration levels and rapid population growth on a scale not seen before (in an already densely populated country) and which placed huge strains on services, infrastructure and on less well-off communities.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Conservative Party was able to lead a government after the 2010 General Election because of their stance on immigration.

The 2010 Cameron-led administration was, of course, a coalition with the Lib Dems, led by the extreme europhile and ultra-liberal, Nick Clegg — now “Vice-President for Global Affairs and Communications” at Facebook.

Immigration policy was in the hands of the Tories, with future prime minister as Theresa May leading the Home Office, which is broadly responsible for policing, national security, and border control in the United Kingdom.

To be fair to Mrs May, she really did try to reduce immigration, with some support from David Cameron. But with just about every Cabinet minister (except for Iain Duncan Smith) resisting even modest measures, it was an uphill struggle.

Mrs May’s measures included: a cap on skilled workers, higher earnings and qualification thresholds; and maintaining constraints on the shortage of occupation list. These measures both bore down on immigration and encouraged the recruitment, training and retention of local workers. Much of Whitehall resisted these policies, tooth and nail. Mrs May also tried to deal with the massive abuse of the student route into the country and eventually did away with the seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme.

Alas, none of these sensible policies remain in place today.

The Conservatives went on to win an outright majority in 2015, partly because of their renewed pledges to reduce total immigration and deter illegal immigration.

They won again in 2017 after David Cameron’s replacement by Mrs May following the Brexit referendum, although a woeful campaign resulted in a hung parliament and a minority government — as well as two-and-a-half years of anti-Brexit shenanigans.

Once again, they had pledged to “bear down on immigration from outside the EU”.

Under the leadership of Boris Johnson in the 2019 General Election manifesto, the unmet commitment to reduce immigration “to the tens of thousands” was dropped. But they did say: “there will be fewer low-skilled migrants and overall numbers will come down. And we will ensure that the British people are in control”.

There was also an undertaking in the 2019 Queen’s Speech to take action to ensure more foreign criminals were removed from our shores, having already committed to (speedily) make illegal Channel crossings an “infrequent phenomenon”. We are still waiting.

Disturbingly, the system that has replaced EU freedom of movement has the potential to make things much worse by loosening work visa rules for the citizens of most of the world’s countries, potentially enabling non-EU numbers to shoot up in the absence of an annual cap, weaker salary and skills thresholds, and the safeguards for British jobseekers being abandoned. Employers have been aided in their efforts to double down on hiring cheap workers from abroad.

Meanwhile, the government has brought in a range of new routes into the UK (as if there were not enough available already) including an avenue for overseas students to stay on after their studies in even low-paid jobs. Thus, undoing all the good work, begun in 2010,”to strengthen the system of granting student visas so that it is less open to abuse“.

The weaker rules accompanying study visas will, as sure as eggs is eggs, undermine the progress that was made in tackling abuse back in Theresa May’s day as Home Secretary. Shameful.

Pre-Brexit, the government (with some justification) blamed EU free movement for its repeated failure to keep its own promises, bearing in mind that non-EU immigration was the one metric over which the government did have near-complete control (but still failed).

And what about illegal immigration?

Theresa May as Home Secretary had a go at deterring illegal immigration through the creation of a “compliant environment” in the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts. However, following the Windrush debacle in which a small number of legal immigrants were wrongly deported – weaponised by the opposition — enforcement has crumbled. The government have been running scared and have lost all will to back the proper enforcement of immigration law. Removals of those with no right to be here are hitting record lows, asylum abuse has increased, and recorded illegal Channel crossings in 2020 are many times higher than they were in 2018.

Far from improving removals of foreign criminals, the number of non-UK ex-offenders living amongst the public significantly increased between 2012 and 2020, hitting 10,400 last year.

Detected illegal entries also rose even during the pandemic – standing at 16,000 in 2020.

Meanwhile, having promised to stop housing and supporting failed asylum claimants at taxpayer expense, the government continues to do so.

We welcomed proposals from the current Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to tackle illegal immigration and to get a grip of the abuse of the asylum system in March. We have responded to her proposals and proposed additional measures.

Priti Patel is certainly willing and determined enough, with an able lieutenant in Chris Philp, but given the steadily worsening figures I have serious doubts that she will be able to make much headway without help from the PM, her Cabinet colleagues and indeed Parliament.

I do hope I am wrong.

Looking back on the 11 years, the Conservative record on immigration has not exactly been impressive. Promises were made to secure votes only to be dropped in light of repeated failure to deliver on them. This is hardly how elected governments should behave in an advanced democracy.

Have they delivered on a) immigration control, b) have they reduced non-EU immigration, c) have they tackled illegal immigration effectively? As someone once said: no, no, no.

Their new points-based system, which is likely to mean more immigration, not less, merits no more than two out of ten. As for their performance on illegal Channel crossings, this has been little short of disastrous. Have they restored border control, as they promised? If only.

So what do I think of the Conservatives’ performance on immigration over the past ten years? After a good(ish) start, which saw the introduction of some sensible measures, it has been downhill. Their record over the past five years, however, has been little short of abysmal.

Alp Mehmet is chairman of the Migration Watch think tank


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