At last fair immigration can be ours – whatever limit we set

At last fair immigration can be ours – whatever limit we set

Immigration was an issue for both sides during last year’s EU referendum.

The Remain campaign acknowledged concerns but chose not to challenge freedom of movement and its potential for unlimited immigration from the EU.

The Leave campaign brought together people who wanted controls on all immigration, from a minority wanting no immigration to some who wanted less and others who simply wanted a fair immigration system.

The current debate about whether Theresa May would be right to renew a hitherto unmet manifesto pledge to bring net migration below 100,000, overlooks the key underlying fact. Before Brexit, net migration has been simply out of our control; in leaving the EU we take back that control.

The limit is now ours to set.

As a London boy born and bred, I have seen the benefits of what a multinational, multi-cultural city can produce. Our city is a global powerhouse – cool, ever changing, economically prosperous, and in my opinion one of the best places on the planet.

But we are a global city, much more open-minded than those who try to define us as us a European city. And immigration has played its part in making it so.

However, to maintain public support for immigration, it has to be is two things – controlled and fair. Within the European Union, it could never be either of those.

As a member we are obliged to open our doors to anybody from any nation in the rest of the European Union, skilled or unskilled, lazy or industrious, qualified or not. We have to allow them full access to our jobs market as well as in-work benefits.

At the same time, concerns over immigration mean that we raise barriers to immigration from countries outside the EEA, some of which have historically been strong partners in our economic, cultural, and industrial growth.

Highly-qualified and skilled candidates from those countries are denied the opportunity to contribute to life here in the UK. Possession of an EU passport trumps qualification or suitability.

Yet opportunity, aspiration and achievement are all nurtured best by creating a level playing field in our immigration policy.

I hope that a post-Brexit UK will be able to take its pick from the widest possible pool of talent from across the world. In the fields of technology, data, finance, science, research and elsewhere, now is the time to start saying loud and clear that the UK is open for business, not only through our trade policy but also through a fair but controlled immigration policy.

Only by taking the best and the brightest will we create a sustainable and efficient immigration which grows the British economy while restoring the trust and confidence of the British public.

Of course, the immigration equation is not just about jobs, integration, or the desire of companies to keep their prices competitive. It must also factor in demands on public services, schools, hospitals, infrastructure and housing.

The Prime Minister has made it clear that what the EU calls “freedom of movement’, but what the public see as unlimited immigration from the EU, will not be part of any final agreement with the European Union. It is important that this is acknowledged, as one of the key reasons the British people voted Leave.

Brexit is the opportunity to put in place at last a system which accounts for all these things and which our people fully support, so that Britain once again views immigration as something positive that strengthens us as a nation.

The Prime Minister has also stressed she wants an early answer to the question of security for EU workers already settled here, and for British citizens settled elsewhere in the the EU. The huge value that we place on EU nationals who are our nurses, teachers, carers, bankers, baristas – as well as our friends, neighbours and colleagues – will not be undermined simply by our wanting to better controls over our immigration system.

I know our country is a tolerant, open, global nation, probably the most tolerant country in the EU.

As we embrace our new relationship with the EU while renewing old friendships and seeking new partners globally, it is time to show Britain at its best. A nation that is firm as well as fair, open to co-operation but not to abuse, forward-looking but not forgetful of our past.