28 November 2014
Last updated at 14:04
Today I want to talk about immigration.
Just as this government has a long term plan for where we are taking our country so within that we have a long-term plan for immigration.
Immigration benefits Britain, but it needs to be controlled.
It needs to be fair.
And it needs to be centred around our national interest.
That is what I want.
And let me tell you why I care so passionately about getting this right – and getting the whole debate on immigration right in our country.
When I think about what makes me proud to be British yes, it is our history, our values, our creativity, our compassion but there is something else too.
I am extremely proud that together we have built a successful, multi-racial democracy.
A country where in one or two generations people can come with nothing and rise as high as their talent allows.
A country whose success has been founded not on building separate futures, but rather coming together to build a common home.
We have always been an open nation, welcoming those who want to make a contribution and build a decent life for themselves and their families.
From the Jewish communities who came to Britain before World War One to the West Indians who docked at Tilbury on the Windrush and helped to rebuild our country after World War Two.
Even at times of war and danger, when our island status has protected us, we have offered sanctuary to those fleeing tyranny and persecution.
We will never forget the Polish and Czech pilots who helped save this country in its hour of need
and the Poles who went on to settle here, help build post war Britain and indeed contribute so much to our country today.
And we are proud of the role we played in providing a haven to the Ugandan Asians in the early 1970s who now count among their number four Members of the House of Lords, some of the UK’s most successful businessmen, a BBC News presenter and the owner of a company providing china to the royal households.
Our openness is part of who we are.
We should celebrate it. We should never allow anyone to demonise it.
And we must never give in to those who would throw away our values, with the appalling prospect of repatriating migrants who are here totally legally and have lived here for years.
We are Great Britain because of immigration, not in spite of it.
So it is fundamental to the future of our country that we get this issue right.
And in doing so, there are three dangerous views which we need to confront.
First, is the complacent view that says the levels of immigration we’ve seen in the past decade aren’t really a problem at all.
That mass migration is an unavoidable by-product of a new world order of globalisation.
That globalisation is an unalloyed good – and those complaining about immigration just need to get with the modern world.
Often the people who have these views are those who have no direct experience of the impact of high levels of migration.
They have never waited on a social housing list or found that their child’s classroom is overcrowded or felt that their community has changed too fast.
And what makes everyone else really angry is that if they dare to express these concerns they can be made to feel guilty about doing so.
We should be clear.
It is not wrong to express concern about the scale of people coming into the country.
People have understandably become frustrated. It boils down to one word: control.
People want Government to have control over the numbers of people coming here and the circumstances in which they come, both from around the world and from within the European Union.
They want control over who has the right to receive benefits and what is expected of them in return.
They want to know that foreign criminals can be excluded – or if already here, removed.
And they want us to manage carefully the pressures on our schools, our hospitals and our housing.
If we are to maintain this successful open meritocratic democracy we treasure, we have to maintain faith in government’s ability to control the rate at which people come to this country.
And yet in recent years, it has become clear that successive Governments have lacked control.
People want grip. I get that. And I completely agree.
To respond to this with complacency is both wrong and dangerous.
The second dangerous view is to think we can somehow pull up the drawbridge and retreat from the world, shutting off immigration altogether.
People who make this argument try to dress it up as speaking up for our country.
But this isolationism is actually deeply unpatriotic.
Yes, Britain is an island nation.
But we have never been an insular one.
Throughout our long history, we have always looked outward, not inward.
We have used the seas that surround our shores not to cut ourselves off from the world, but to reach out to it – to carry our trade to the four corners of the earth.
And with that trade has come people, companies, jobs and investment.
We have always understood that our national greatnesss is built on our openness.
We see that every day.
In our National Health Service, which would grind to a halt without the hundreds of thousands who have come from overseas to help run it.
In the City of London, the financial epicentre of the world, where so many, from so many different countries, have come to make Britain their home.
In the Bank of England, where the best Central Banker in the world, a Canadian, is our Governor.
In our world class universities, where students and indeed professors have come from all over the world.
This is modern Britain.
A country that has come out of recession to become the fastest growing advanced economy in the world.
That has happened in part because we are an open nation.
And for the sake of British jobs, British livelihoods and British opportunities we must fight this dangerous and misguided view that our nation can withdraw from the world and somehow all will be well.
The third view we need to confront is the idea that a successful plan to control immigration is only about immigration policy and controls.
A modern immigration plan is not just about the decisions you take on the people you allow into your country.
It is also about the education you provide to your own people and the rights and responsibilities at the heart of your welfare system.
Because the problem hasn’t just been a simplistic one of too many people coming here it’s also been too many British people untrained and too many British people without the incentive to work because they can get a better income living on benefits.
Even at the end of the so-called boom years, there were around five-million people in our country of working age but on out-of-work benefits.
And this was at the same time as the last government enabled the largest wave of migration in our country’s history.
I want young British people schooled enough, skilled enough, keen enough to work so there is less demand for foreign workers.
Put simply, our job is to educate and train up our youth, so we are less reliant on immigration to fill our skills gaps.
And any politician who doesn’t have a serious plan for welfare and education, has no sensible long-term plan for controlling immigration.
In taking on these three views we also need to choose our language carefully.
We must anchor the debate in fact not prejudice.
We must have no truck with those who use immigration to foment division, or as a surrogate for other agendas.
We should distrust those who sell the snake oil of simple solutions.
There are no simple solutions.
Managing immigration is hard.
Not only here.
But in every major developed economy.
Certainly in Europe.
Look at Italy, where migration from North Africa is a vital issue.
Look at Germany, where benefit tourism is a huge concern.
Or look at the United States, the ultimate melting pot, where President Obama has just announced sweeping reforms.
Look at Australia, whose points-based system we now operate in Britain, where the issue of immigration dominated their last election campaign and where migrant numbers are actually higher, pro rata, than in the UK.
The British people understand this.
They know that a modern, knowledge-based economy like ours needs immigration.
There is a parallel here.
On the EU, most British people don’t want a false choice between the status quo or leaving.
They want reform and a referendum.
On immigration, they don’t want limitless immigration and they don’t want no immigration.
They want controlled immigration.
And they are right.
So what are the facts?
Over the last ten years, immigration to the UK has soared, while the number of Britons going to work abroad has remained roughly the same.
As a result, net immigration – a reasonably good way of measuring the pressure of immigration – has gone up significantly.
To give you some idea of the scale.
In terms of the net figures.
In the thirty years leading up to 2004, net migration in the UK was around one million.
In just the next seven years, it was 1.5 million.
The gross figures are that 8.3 million people came to the UK as long-term migrants in the thirty years leading up to 2004.
And a further 4 million came in the next seven years.
What caused this increase?
Certainly, a lax approach to immigration by the last Government, which they themselves have since admitted.
For example, their points system included an entire category for people outside the EU with no skills to come to the UK.
It was too easy for foreign nationals to become citizens.
There was a huge increase in asylum claims.
There were disproportionate numbers of jobs going to foreign workers.
The welfare system allowed new EU migrant workers to claim immediately, without having paid in, which is in contrast to many other countries.
And, of course, there was the decision by the last Government not to impose transitional controls on the eight new countries which entered the EU in 2004.
With their economies considerably poorer than ours – and with almost every other EU country opting to keep controls – it made the UK a uniquely attractive destination for the citizens of those countries.
One million people came to Britain after that decision.
When we came to office in 2010, we were determined to get to grips with this problem.
So we set a clear target: to return net migration to 1990s levels when even though we had an open economy, proper immigration controls meant immigration was in the tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands.
And we set to work on it immediately, with a clear plan to tackle non-EU migration in a targeted way while continuing to permit companies to bring in the skilled workers they needed and allowing universities to attract the best talent from around the world.
So we took action to cut numbers and tackle abuse on every visa route for those coming to Britain from outside Europe.
We imposed an annual cap on economic migration of 20,700.
We clamped down on bogus students and stopped nearly 800 fake colleges bringing people in.
We insisted that those wishing to have family come and join them must earn at least £18,600 per year and pass an English language test.
In addition, we have made Britain a much harder place to exist as an illegal immigrant.
This is all relentless, painstaking work.
I have been out on the ground with Border Force staff.
I have talked with the immigration officers who used to have no choice but to admit what they felt sure were fake students, claiming to come here to study without being able to speak a word of English.
We have tightened up across the board: not only at the border, but inside the country too by stopping illegal immigrants from opening a bank account, obtaining a driving licence, and renting a home.
These are measures that other parties did not support but which I believe are essential and need to be carried forward further.
We have also brought back vital exit checks at ports and airports.
And by April, those checks will be in force at all our major ports and airports.
So we will be able not only to count people in, but to count them out again.
And in Calais we have created a £12 million fund to strengthen security, and we are working more closely than ever with our French partners to tackle illegal immigration and track down people smugglers.
This determined effort is making a real difference.
Even after yesterday’s disappointing figures, net migration from outside Europe is down by almost a quarter, and falling close to the levels seen in the late 1990s.
Without our reforms, in the last year alone, 50,000 more migrants from outside the EU would have come to the UK.
But if I am Prime Minister after the election, we will go further.
We will revoke licences from colleges and businesses which fail to do enough to prevent large numbers of migrants they sponsor from overstaying their visas.
We will extend our new policy of ‘deport first, appeal later’ to cover all immigration appeals where a so-called right to family life is invoked.
We will rapidly implement the requirement, included in our 2014 Immigration Act, for landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants.
We will do all of these things.
And we will continue with our welfare and education reforms making sure that it always pays to work training more British workers right across the country, but especially in local areas that are heavily reliant on migrant labour and supporting those communities with a new fund to help meet the additional demands on local services.
We will also introduce stronger powers to tackle criminal gangs who bring people into this country and then withhold their passports and their pay.
And I am proud that today we are publishing our Modern Slavery Strategy, clamping down on those appalling criminals who try and traffic people here.
But our action to cut migration from outside the EU has not been enough to meet our target of cutting the overall numbers to the tens of thousands.
The figures yesterday demonstrate that again.
As we have reduced the numbers coming to the UK from outside the EU, the numbers from inside the EU have risen.
In other words, our squeeze in one area has been offset by a bulge in another.
The ambition remains the right one. But it’s clear: it’s going to take more time, more work and more difficult long term decisions to get there.
Some people disagree with the whole concept of a net migration target, because they say you can be blown off course by the numbers emigrating each year.
But there are two reasons why I think it’s worthwhile.
It measures the overall impact of migration in our country.
And emigration figures from Britain are relatively constant.
But I accept the logic of the argument about emigration.
So as well as sticking to our ambition, we will set out additional metrics in the future so that people can clearly chart progress on the scale of migration from outside the EU – and from within it.
So let me set out why net migration from the EU is rising and what we are going to do about it.
The first thing to say is that it is a tribute to Britain that so many people want to come here.
That has not always been the case.
In the 1970s, when Britain was the sick man of Europe, more people were leaving Britain than coming here.
Today, they are coming for perfectly understandable reasons.
We are currently the jobs factory for Europe.
Our unemployment is tumbling, and is now about half the level of France and a quarter the level of Spain.
And whereas in the past the majority of the growth in employment was taken up by foreign nationals last year two thirds of that growth benefited British workers.
While some Eurozone economies remain weak, our economy is now growing faster than every major economy in Europe and is the fastest growing economy in the G7.
That fact – combined with our generous welfare system, including for those in work – makes the UK a magnetic destination for workers from other European countries.
And let me be clear: the great majority of those who come here from Europe come to work, work hard and pay their taxes.
They contribute to our country.
They are willing to travel across the continent in search of a better life for them and their families.
Many of them come just for a short period – a year or two – before returning home.
And once economic growth returns to the countries of the Eurozone, and those economies start to grow and prosper, the economic pendulum will start to swing back.
That will require far-reaching structural reform and removing barriers to job creation.
And I welcome the intention of the new Commission to tackle these issues: they will have the whole-hearted support of the UK in doing so.
So what, my European counterparts say to me, is the issue?
They say: you have unemployment falling and your economy growing: this does not look to us like a serious problem.
Indeed, many say they ‘wish we had the sort of problems you have’.
And some in Europe just think our problems are because our welfare system is a soft touch.
But this Government has already taken unprecedented action to make our welfare system fairer and less open to abuse, all within the current rules.
And these reforms, including restricting EU jobseeker entitlements, will save our taxpayers half a billion pounds over the next five years.
But even with these changes, the pressure is still very great.
In some areas, the number of migrants we are seeing is far higher than our local authorities, our schools and our hospitals can cope with.
They are much higher than anything the EU has known before in its history.
And they are far higher than what the founding fathers envisaged when the European Economic Community was established in 1957 or what Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Kohl envisaged when they signed the Single European Act in 1986.
One million people coming to one Member State is a vast migration, on a scale that has not happened before in peacetime.
And yesterday’s figures show that the scale of migration is still very great.
So many people, so fast, is placing real burdens on our public services.
There are secondary schools where the turnover of pupils can be as high as one third of the entire school in a year.
There are primary schools where dozens of languages are spoken with only a small minority speaking English as their first language.
There are hospitals where maternity units are under great pressure because birth rates have increased dramatically.
There are Accident and Emergency departments under serious pressure.
And there is pressure on social housing that cannot be met.
And in a country with a generous, non-contributory welfare system, all this is raising real issues of fairness.
People cannot understand how those who have not paid in can immediately take out.
And they find it incomprehensible that a family coming from another EU country can claim child benefit from the UK – at UK rates – and send it back to children still living in their home country.
When trust in the EU is already so low, we cannot afford to leave injustices like this to fester.
Some of our partners will say: ‘But you are not unique’.
Germany, for instance, has had more EU migrants than the UK.
But Germany is in a different situation.
Germany’s population is falling, and Britain’s is rising.
Now dealing with this issue in the EU is not straightforward, because of the freedom of movement to which all EU Member States sign up.
I want to be clear: Britain supports the principle of the free movement of workers.
We benefit from it, and 1.3 million British citizens exercise their right to go and live and work, and in many cases retire, in other European countries.
Accepting the principle of free movement of workers is a key to being part of the single market.
A market from which Britain has benefited enormously.
So we do not want to destroy that principle or turn it on its head.
Those who argue that Norway or Switzerland offer a better model for Britain ignore one crucial fact: they have each had to sign up to the principle of freedom of movement in order to access the single market and both countries actually have far higher per capita immigration than the UK.
But freedom of movement has never been an unqualified right, and we now need to allow it to operate on a more sustainable basis in the light of the experience of recent years.
That does not mean a closed door regime or a fundamental assault on the principle of free movement.
What it does mean is finding arrangements to allow a Member State like the UK to restore a sense of fairness and bring down the current spike in numbers.
My objective is simple: to make our immigration system fairer and reduce the current exceptionally high level of migration from within the EU into the UK.
I am completely committed to delivering that – and I am ready to discuss with our partners any methods which achieve it, while maintaining the overall principle to which they, and we, attach importance.
So let me set out the action we intend to take to cut migration from within Europe by dealing with abuse restricting the ability of migrants to stay here without a job and reducing the incentives for lower paid, lower skilled workers to come here in the first place.
First, we want to create the toughest system in the EU for dealing with abuse of free movement.
This includes stronger powers to deport criminals and stop them coming back.
And tougher and longer re-entry bans for all those who abuse free movement including beggars, rough sleepers, fraudsters and people who collude in sham marriages.
We must also deal with the extraordinary situation where it’s easier for an EU citizen to bring a
non-EU spouse to Britain, than it is for a British citizen to do the same.
At the moment, if a British citizen wants to bring, say, a South American partner to the UK, then we ask for proof that they meet an income threshold and can speak English.
But EU law means we cannot apply these tests to EU migrants. Their partners can just come straight into our country without any proper controls at all.
And this has driven a growing industry in sham marriages, with this loophole accounting for most of the 4,000 bogus marriages that are thought to take place in Britain every year.
We have got to end this abuse.
Second, we want EU jobseekers to have a job offer before they come here and to stop UK taxpayers having to support them if they don’t.
This government inherited an indefensible system where the State – our taxpayers – paid EU jobseekers to look for work indefinitely and even paid their rent while they did so.
In total that meant the British taxpayer was supporting a typical EU jobseeker with £600 a month.
We have already begun to change this.
We’ve scrapped housing benefit for EU jobseekers.
And we have limited benefits claims to three months for those EU migrants who have no prospect of a job.
But now we are going to go further.
We are overhauling our welfare system with a new benefit called Universal Credit.
This will replace existing benefits such as Jobseekers’ Allowance that support people out of work.
And its legal status means we can regain control over who we pay it to.
So as Universal Credit is introduced we will pass a new law that means EU jobseekers will not be able to claim it.
And we will do this within existing EU law. So instead of £600, they will get nothing.
We also want to restrict the time that jobseekers can legally stay in this country.
So if an EU jobseeker has not found work within six months, they will be required to leave.
Let’s be clear what this will mean.
At the moment 40 per cent of those coming to work in the UK do not have a job offer when they arrive – the highest proportion in the EU.
Many of these will no longer come.
EU jobseekers who don’t pay in will no longer get anything out.
And those who do come will no longer be able to stay if they can’t find work.
There was a time when freedom of movement meant Member States could expect workers to have a job offer before they arrived and this will return us closer to that position.
Third, we want to reduce the number of EU workers coming to the UK.
Of course, that means never repeating the mistake that was made in 2004.
So we will insist that when new countries are admitted to the EU in the future, free movement will not apply to those new members until their economies have converged much more closely with existing Member States.
Future accession treaties require unanimous agreement of all Member States.
So the UK will ensure this change is included.
But we also need to do more now to reduce migration from current Member States.
And that means reducing the incentives for lower paid, low skilled EU workers to come here in the first place.
Our welfare system is unusual in Europe. It pays out before you pay into it.
That gives us particular difficulties, especially in respect of benefits while you are working – so called ‘in work benefits’.
Someone coming to the UK from elsewhere in the EU, who is employed on the minimum wage and who has two children back in their home country, will receive around £700 per month in benefits in the UK.
This is more than twice what they would receive in Germany. And three times more than in France.
No wonder so many people want to come to Britain.
These tax credits and other welfare payments are a big financial incentive, and we know that over 400,000 EU migrants take advantage of them.
This has got to change.
So I will insist that in the future those who want to claim tax credits and child benefit must live here and contribute to our country for a minimum of four years.
If their child is living abroad, then there should be no child benefit or child tax credit at all no matter how long they have worked in the UK and no matter how much tax they have paid.
And we will introduce a new residency requirement for social housing – meaning that you can’t even be considered for a council house unless you have been here for at least four years.
This is about saying: our welfare system is like a national club.
It’s made up of the contribution of hardworking British taxpayers.
Millions of people doing the right thing, paying into the system, generation after generation.
It cannot be right that migrants can turn up and claim full rights to this club straightaway.
So let’s be clear what all of these changes taken together will mean.
EU migrants should have a job offer before they come here.
UK taxpayers will not support them if they don’t.
And once they are in work, they won’t get benefits or social housing from Britain unless they have been here for at least four years.
Yes, these are radical reforms
But they are also reasonable and fair.
And the British people need to know that changes to welfare to cut EU migration will be an absolute requirement in the renegotiation.
I am confident that they will reduce significantly EU migration to the UK.
And that is what I am determined to deliver.
My very clear aim is to be able to negotiate these changes for the whole EU, because I believe they would benefit the whole EU.
They take account of the particular circumstances of our own welfare system, and they go with the grain of what other Member States with high numbers of EU benefit claimants are considering.
And of course we would expect them to apply on a reciprocal basis to British citizens elsewhere in the EU.
But if negotiating for the whole EU should not prove possible, I would want to see them included in a UK-only settlement.
Now I know many will say this is impossible – just impossible.
Some of the most ardent supporters of the European Union will say it is impossible – fearing that if an accommodation is made for Britain, the whole European Union will unravel.
And those who passionately want Britain to leave the European Union will say it is impossible – and that the only way to control migration into the UK is to leave the EU.
On this, at least, they will agree.
To those who claim change is impossible, I respond with one word, the most powerful word in the English language.
Why is it impossible?
Why is it impossible to find a way forward on this issue, and on other issues, that meet the real concerns of a major Member State, one of the biggest net contributors to the EU budget?
I simply don’t accept such defeatism.
I say to our European partners.
We have real concerns.
Our concerns are not outlandish or unreasonable.
We deserve to be heard, and we must be heard.
Not only for Britain’s sake, but for the sake of Europe as a whole.
Because what is happening in Britain is not unique to Britain.
Across the European Union, issues of migration are causing real concern and raising real questions.
Can movements on the scale we have seen in recent years always be in the best interests of the EU and wider European solidarity?
Can it be in the interests of central and eastern European Member States that so many of their brightest and best are drawn away from home when they are needed most?
This concern takes a different form in different Member States, and has different causes.
But it has one common feature: it is contributing to a corrosion of trust in the European Union and the rise of populist parties.
If we ignore it, it will not go away.
Across the European Union we are seeing the frustrations of our citizens, demonstrated in the results of the European Elections.
Leadership means dealing with those frustrations, not turning a deaf ear to them.
And we have a duty to act on them, to restore the democratic legitimacy of the EU.
So I say to our friends in Europe.
It’s time we talked about this properly.
And a conversation cannot begin with the word “no”.
The entire European Union is built on a gift for compromise, for finding ways round difficult corners, for accepting that sometimes we have to avoid making the perfect the enemy of the good.
That is the way the EU operates. That is the way a Union of 28 democracies has to operate.
Flexibility not rigidity.
Creativity not dogma.
Only this month a way was found to accommodate France breaching its budget deficit limit, as everyone knew it would be.
And it can be done again.
Two years ago, at Bloomberg, I set out my vision for a reformed European Union.
I stand by every word of that speech today.
A reformed EU, in the interests not only of Britain, but of every Member State.
Of course I know the arguments that will be put.
It will be argued that freedom of movement is a holy principle – one of the four cardinal principles of the EU, alongside freedom of capital, of services and of goods – and that what we are suggesting is heresy.
To which I say: hang on a moment.
No one claims that the other three freedoms have yet been fully implemented.
Far from it.
It is still not possible for a British optician to trade freely in Italy, or a French company to raise funds in Germany.
It is still not possible for consumers to access their Netflix or iTunes accounts across borders in the EU.
And freedom of movement itself is not absolute.
There are rules for when new Member States join the EU precisely to cope with excessive numbers.
So why can’t there be steps to allow Member States a greater degree of control, in order to uphold a general and important principle, but one which is already qualified?
And of course freedom of movement has evolved significantly over the years from applying to job-holders to job-seekers too from job-seekers to their non-European family members and from a right to work, to a right to claim a range of benefits.
So I am saying to our European partners.
I ask you to work with us on this.
I know some of you will be saying: why bother?
Some of you may even say that in public.
To which my answer is clear: because it is worth it.
Look at what Britain brings to Europe.
The fastest growing economy and the second largest.
One of Europe’s strongest powers.
A country which in many ways invented the single market, and which brings real heft to Europe’s influence on the world stage.
Here is an issue which matters to the British people, and to our future in the European Union.
The British people will not understand – frankly I will not understand – if a sensible way through cannot be found, which will help settle this country’s place in the EU once and for all.
And to the British people I say this.
I share your concern, and I am acting on it.
I know how much this matters.
Judge me by my record in Europe.
I promised we would cut the EU budget – and we have.
I said I would veto a Treaty that was not in our interests, and I did.
I do not pretend this will be easy.
It will require a lot of hard pounding, a lot of hard negotiation.
But it will be worth it.
Because those who promise you simple solutions are betraying you.
Those who say we would certainly be better off outside the EU only ever tell you part of the story.
Of course we would survive, there is no doubt about that.
But we would need to weigh in the balance the loss of our instant access to the single market, and our right to take the decisions that regulate it.
And we would of course lose the automatic right for the 1.3 million British citizens who today are living and working elsewhere in Europe to do so.
That is something we would want to think carefully about giving up.
For me, I have one test, and one test only: what is in the best, long term interests of Britain?
That is the measure against which everything must be judged.
If you elect me as Prime Minister in May, I will negotiate to reform the European Union, and Britain’s relationship with it.
This issue of free movement will be a key part of that negotiation.
If I succeed, I will, as I have said, campaign to keep this country in a reformed EU.
If our concerns fall on deaf ears and we cannot put our relationship with the EU on a better footing, then of course I rule nothing out.
But I am confident that, with goodwill and understanding, we can and will succeed.
At the end of the day, whatever happens, the final decision will be yours, when you place your cross on the ballot paper in the referendum to decide whether Britain remains in the European Union.
That decision is for you, the British people, and for you alone.