Securing our borders is a fundamental responsibility of any government. On a purely practical basis, properly enforced borders keep us all safe. On a theoretical level, a state cannot be a sovereign if it loses the power to determine who enters and leaves its territory.
But for conservatives, who believe in the nation state as the most successful vehicle for peace and prosperity, secure borders are a core philosophical tenet. National identity – bound by shared memories, traditions and values – is a prerequisite for generosity in society and public service. When migration is uncontrolled and national identity frays, social trust and cohesion erode. I saw this painfully first-hand as immigration minister.
As politicians we should take robust action to secure our borders for no other reason than because it is unequivocally the right thing to do for the country. That’s why I feel so strongly about delivering an effective Rwanda policy that successfully deters illegal small boat crossings. It’s why I resigned in protest against a Bill that won’t work and why Sir Bill Cash and I have tabled a series of amendments to fix it.
But as representatives elected to advance the interests of our constituents in parliament, we also have a duty to listen to their voice. Today the most authoritative polling on immigration to date, published by the Telegraph, shows the country speaks with one loud, unambiguous voice: strengthen the Bill.
When voters were asked what should happen to those who come to the UK illegally on a small boat from France, they overwhelmingly chose to back my proposals to remove them from the UK immediately without an appeal. Forty-three per cent select it, compared to just 15 per cent that select the Government’s position on the Bill that they should be set for removal but also have an opportunity to legally challenge their removal. Twenty-seven per cent agree with Labour’s position that small boat migrants should not be removed. It’s clear the public refuse to accept tinkering of a failed status quo.
Tackling illegal migration is a basic expectation
In our first past the post electoral system, what does that mean by constituency? The MRP poll shows that in 362 of the 365 seats the Conservatives won in 2019, the position my amendments take are the most popular option. And in 198 of the 200 key swing seats – the seats in England and Wales the Conservatives are forecast to lose – my position is also favoured.
Some people have sought to smear my amendments by claiming I am advancing a fringe Right-wing opinion. They should note that in 310 of the 361 seats in England and Wales Labour are set to win, the policy I and others are advocating is also the most favoured option. Robust action to tackle illegal migration is such a basic expectation of the public that it defies traditional party-political allegiances.
The polling also blows apart lazy analysis of the Red Wall that pits the interests of Conservative MPs in the north against those in the south. Seventy-four per cent of Conservative defectors in the North and Midlands back the more robust measures, as do 68 per cent of defectors in London and the South. As James Johnson, a former No 10 pollster, wrote yesterday: “The Conservative Party is losing everywhere because it is losing Leave voters everywhere.”
Focusing in on the key group of voters – the Conservative defectors – who voted Conservatives in 2019 but aren’t set to anymore, 70 per cent back removing illegal migrants from the UK immediately with them being unable to challenge their removal, compared to just 12 per cent who back the Government’s position. Focusing on those voters we are set to lose to Reform reveals a whopping 95 per cent support the toughest position.
If we fail to win these voters back, our party will suffer and our country will suffer. And there is clearly no way to win them back without passing a Bill that will actually work.
The right thing to do
These findings will come as no surprise to those who have closely followed the immigration debate. For 30 years the public has voted time and again for secure borders and for legal migration to not just be “controlled” but also significantly reduced. On each occasion Westminster has shown complete disdain for their concerns. This is utterly corrosive to trust in democratic politics, and in an election year when the British public have their chance to mark our work, it is a recipe for electoral wipe out.
Passing a Bill that 60 per cent of the public, including a clear majority of those who voted for us in 2019, believe will not work will only generate a tiny short-term political benefit. That minuscule political benefit will be dwarfed by the political punishment that will be inflicted when the policy fails later in the year and the boats keep coming. The public are sick of talk; delivery is the only thing the public will reward.
The only path to victory at the next general election, and keeping out the open-borders Labour party, is to strengthen this Bill so that it stops the boats. It’s a path the Conservative Party has one last chance to choose. It’s the right thing to do for our country, and it’s the right thing to do for democracy.