James Sunderland speaks in Second Reading debate on the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill ​

James Sunderland backs the Bill which allows the UK to take back control of its borders and end uncontrolled immigration but calls for flexibility in the legislation to be able to respond to needs in the employment market at any given time.

James Sunderland speaks in Second Reading debate on the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill ​

7.23 pm

James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)

This is a key moment in British politics. For years, the issues of Europe and immigration have stretched Governments and divided parties, but here is a chance to lay those ghosts to rest. In December, Britain voted for a Government who promised to deliver Brexit and end uncontrolled immigration, so this Bill does exactly what it says on the tin. Not only does it allow the UK to take back control of its borders, but it also helps our territorial sovereignty in a way that has not been possible for more than four decades. For those politicians who dare to listen to the electorate, that is what we promised and what we will deliver.

In recent weeks, people have told me that the Bill is contentious, but it should be regarded for what it is, not for what others fear it to be. For a start, I was elected on the Conservative manifesto of 2019, which promised to end free movement across our borders and to restore trust in our immigration system. History is littered with examples of Governments failing to deliver, but here we are, on the road to delivery. Not only does the Bill fulfil the clear pledges that were made, but it allows our independent country to evolve in the post-Brexit era, as we would wish it to.

People have told me that the Bill flies in the face of what has been achieved by so many during the pandemic, notably in the NHS. A handful of constituents have even asked me to withhold my support for the Bill until it recognises the contribution of key workers. No one ​should need any reminder of the respect, admiration and awe with which the British people regard those heroes. The contribution of our public sector employees, public servants and staff is the stuff of legend, and we will always be grateful. But we must be careful not to mix metaphors. Contrary to what we have heard, the Bill does not serve to detract from that, nor does it serve to demean anyone, irrespective of their creed, colour, faith or ethnicity. In fact, it bears no correlation whatever with that. It simply fulfils a promise to bring in a fairer system that allows the UK to welcome the brightest and best to our shores. To use logistical terminology, it will be on a demand-pull, not a supply-push, basis.

For the avoidance of any doubt, immigration has been good for the UK, and we have built a proud global nation on the back of our history, shared values and unrivalled diaspora and those who have come here from abroad. I have also been honoured to serve alongside many brilliant foreign and Commonwealth soldiers. We owe a debt of gratitude to them, and our shared wealth, prosperity and enviable trading relationships will only be enhanced further through our pursuit of new free trade agreements.

The blueprint for future success does not mean that we can write a blank cheque in the post-Brexit era for all those hoping to come here, as much as we might want to. In this competitive and conflicted world, it is no surprise that many seek to come to the UK, but that cannot be ad hoc. That has nothing to do with racism or xenophobia, and those who are confused about that are wrong.

The Bill promises a points-based immigration system that mirrors other countries of the free world. We do, however, need to be careful that it does not become a blunt instrument. The legislation must be flexible and agile enough to respond to the employment market at any given time, particularly in terms of the skills being offered. For example, there will be a need for seasonal labour, and we must be able to attract all those we need. Indeed, I welcome the fact that employers will be given sufficient notice to plan, but it is essential too that the UK Government do not cut off their nose to spite their face by inadvertently limiting those we need. I would certainly welcome some transitional arrangements in that respect.

Of course, none of that is sustainable if we allow free movement across the channel. We need to better provide law enforcement agencies with the power to intercept and return. As many hon. Members will testify, what is happening now in Dover is unsustainable, and we must disincentivise those who seek to exploit the misfortune of others with promises of asylum. We must also ensure that those entering the UK on student visas do not become lost to the system, and it is right that the legislation further enables changes to social security arrangements and visas.

As contentious as the Bill might be to some, it is what many in Britain have requested for the past four decades. It is what we voted for in 2019, and it is what the Conservative Government promised.