Tackling illegal immigration | Antony Higginbotham

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For as long as I can remember Governments of all parties have been saying they are going to ensure we have strong and robust borders.

And yet year after year, Government after Government, nothing really changed.

Part of the problem was freedom of movement – a pillar of EU membership – which meant that the Government of the day often had their hands tied behind their back.

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But for too many Government’s that was helpful, as they sought to indicate they wanted to be tough but couldn’t be.

Burnley MP Antony HigginbothamBurnley MP Antony Higginbotham
Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham

This year that changed. Freedom of Movement has ended and from 1 January the UK regained full control of its border and immigration policy.

This marked a new chapter for us as a country, and fulfilled a key promise I made during the General Election campaign.

The first measure we took was to introduce a new, points based, immigration system.

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One which prioritises the skills a person has and not where they come from.

It is global in outlook and ambition, with a key focus being attractiveness for the entrepreneurs and job creators.

And with special routes in for health and social care staff.

But we know this isn’t enough, and over the last 12 months I’ve shared the concerns and frustrations of many when small boats have continued to cross the English Channel.

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This isn’t because I, or any of us, lack compassion, but because we all believe that there are safe and legal ways of entering the UK and those who use alternative routes are seeking to circumvent that system.

This is in no small way driven by the vile criminal gangs that exploit people when they are at their most vulnerable – fleeing warzones or persecution.

These gangs convince people that if they want a better life, they must pay thousands of pounds for dangerous crossings in small boats.

Far too often this has resulted in tragedy which only goes to strengthen my resolve that it needs fixing.

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This week the Home Secretary announced her intention to stop this through the New Plan for Immigration.

It is a plan to fix what is now an outdated and ineffective asylum system, whilst also securing our borders against those who seek to flout our immigration laws.

Any solution that didn’t tackle the source of the problem would just be another sticking plaster.

Another example of talking the talk, without walking the walk.

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That’s why a key priority within this new plan is tackling the people traffickers who convince people to take these routes, including through a new life sentence in prison.

This is something other countries like Australia have done very well.

But as well as tackling the gangs, rules will also be strengthened to encourage those with genuine claims to enter legally.

Those who enter illegally will no longer receive an automatic right to settle, where a claim looks fraudulent, they can be rapidly returned within a matter

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of hours, and those who can stay will only be granted a temporary protection status.

This will see them regularly reassessed for removal, have limited family reunion rights and limited access to benefits.

Likewise, the use of hotels to accommodate arrivals will end as we move towards a reception centre model.

And whether you enter the UK legally or illegally will have a lasting impact on how your asylum claim progresses, and on your status in the UK if that claim is successful.

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In addition to all of this we need a system that works when someone has been deemed suitable for removal from the UK.

The often last minute and unmeritorious claims and appeals that we see need to end, and so the introduction of a ‘one-stop’ process to require all rights-based claims to be brought and considered together in a single assessment upfront is welcome.

People want to see actions not words and I’m fully aware that the proof will be in pudding.

The New Plan is compassionate but fair, delivering on your priorities and changing the law where it isn’t working.

If you want to see all the proposals, or give your view on them, you can do so at the consultation website: https://newplanforimmigration.com/en/

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