Dear Home Secretary
You take over the Home Office at a crucial moment of both challenge and opportunity.
As you have acknowledged in the House of Commons today, the Windrush scandal revealed that the public expects Britain’s immigration system to be fair and humane. More than a decade of declining public trust in the system, culminating in the Brexit vote, showed that voters expect our approach to be effective and efficient too.
That referendum decision means the Home Office faces the largest administrative task in its history, to secure the status of over 3 million Europeans in Britain. It also represents a ‘reset moment’ for immigration policy and a chance to put in place a new system that manages the pressures while keeping the gains that migration brings to Britain.
The fundamental challenge is that successive governments have lost the confidence of the British public. That is the common thread between the failure to anticipate, prepare for or adequately respond to the rapid rise of EU immigration after 2004; of setting a target for net migration in 2010 that was never likely to be met; and the revelations of the treatment of the Windrush generation.
Crucial to rebuilding that trust is engaging the public further in the big decisions that Britain must now make on immigration. The National Conversation on Immigration has just completed 120 meetings with local citizens and stakeholders in 60 locations across every nation and region of the UK, revealing common themes and challenges as well as local differences. We look forward to sharing its findings with you to help inform future policy.
Immigration can still seem like the most difficult and polarizing issue in politics. The Windrush scandal has shown that it still has the power to unseat a Home Secretary; also that it is an issue from which the government cannot run away. It is now 19 months since the Brexit decision, yet despite the pivotal role played by immigration in that debate there has been little word from government about the shape of future post-Brexit immigration policy. Yet the National Conversation has found much scope for consensus. Most people are ‘balancers’, who see the pressures and gains from migration. Their views are more constructive than our media and online debates would suggest.
The MAC’s report this autumn will provide valuable intelligence about what business wants from a new system, but theirs cannot be the only voice that is heard. A new system will only succeed if it secures the confidence of the public, as well as that of British business and public services.
A balanced policy can square this circle: ensuring that Britain controls the large-scale movement of lower-skilled workers that fuelled the Brexit vote while remaining open to the skills and energy that generations of new arrivals have contributed to our economy and society. Alongside the economic benefits of immigration it must also recognise Britain’s proud tradition of offering a place of safety to refugees who need our protection: renewing the resettlement scheme that has helped Syrian families integrate into local communities, and ensuring that asylum claims are processed quickly and fairly.
You will be under no illusion that this is an easy job. Public and media attention tends to fall on Home Secretaries when things go wrong. Yet your appointment as Home Secretary is itself a powerful symbol of what happens when Britain gets immigration and integration right. We believe you have an opportunity to make the bold reforms that are needed to rebuild confidence in our immigration system for the future.
Director, British Future