We can only reduce net migration once we’ve left the EU and taken back control of immigration policy

We can only reduce net migration once we’ve left the EU and taken back control of immigration policy

In three consecutive general elections, the Conservative Party has pledged to cut net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. We can only credibly deliver this pledge by leaving the Single Market and ending free movement of people from the European Union.

The message from the public in the referendum was clear – the British people voted to take back control – including taking back control of immigration policy for EU nationals. Immigration has been repeatedly shown to be an issue important to Leave and Remain voters alike, and for voters across the political spectrum.

As the Prime Minister outlined in her Lancaster House speech last year, post-Brexit we need to ensure we can control immigration to Britain from Europe. This can only be achieved by leaving the Single Market, given that free movement of people is one of its fundamental pillars (alongside free movement of goods, services and capital), and the EU has been clear that we cannot cherry-pick what they see as fundamental components of its membership.

Ending free movement of people does not mean closing the door to our EU neighbours, and pulling up the drawbridge. Far from it. We will continue to welcome the best and the brightest to work or study in Britain – but that process must be managed properly so that our immigration system serves the UK’s national interest.

There has been much recent discussion about the effect of Brexit on our growth rate of our economy. I’m personally not convinced by some of the assumptions used to generate these forecasts, but plenty before me have argued about this point. However, two important points about forecasts have been largely ignored in this debate.

First, the changes in growth are relative to a hypothetical non-Brexit scenario, and are measured many years hence. Relative changes of a few percent in GDP over a period of decades, averaging small fractions of a percent per year, will also only equate to a small fraction of the UK’s total economic growth across the period, and are well within the margins of error of economic forecasts.

Second, while a lot of focus is put on the total size of the economy (GDP), what really matters to people is the size of the economy per head of population (GDP per capita). If we grow the size of the economy just by growing the population, without also increasing GDP per head, we won’t be making British families any better off. The overall economy is bigger, but it will be split between more people. It also ignores the fact that low-skilled, low-paid migration has a net fiscal cost to the taxpayer, and the effect that high levels of immigration have on the demand for public services.

As I stated above, we will of course want to continue to welcome the brightest and best from Europe to the UK to work and study – just as we currently do from the rest of the world. However, by restricting the number of low-skilled migrants coming to the UK, we can retain the benefit of skilled migration, without the knock-on impact on public services and the public finances.

In the last decade, we have seen record levels of net migration to the UK. While this has helped grow our overall economy, the speed and volume has put pressure on public services and infrastructure, and put a downward pressure on wages for working class people. Over the period from 2006 to 2016, net migration to the UK was about 2.5 million, of which nearly 1 million was concentrated in London. It is no coincidence that the area with the highest pressure on housing is the same area with high international migration.

As the Prime Minister said at Lancaster House, we are an open and tolerant country. We will always want immigration, especially high-skilled immigration, both from Europe and the rest of the world. However, the message from the electorate was clear – Brexit must mean controlling the number of people who come to Britain from Europe. Not delivering this will look to many as both not delivering the Brexit they voted for, and not honouring our repeated manifesto commitments to the British people to get migration under control.