Edward Leigh urged the government to “hold the line” on its immigration reforms as a series of House of Lords amendments were batted away by MPs in the Commons last night.
Ministers were warned they risk criminalising Ukrainian refugees entering the UK as MPs reinstated a series of controversial proposals to flagship immigration legislation.
The Nationality and Borders Bill makes it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission rather than via a designated scheme or route, with a maximum sentence of four years in prison.
Sir Edward insisted the UK has been generous in welcoming people from different countries but told MPs a “sense of proportion” is required in response to an “overwhelming number” who want to come to the country.
There would be a “catastrophic effect” on race relations if this does not happen, he said.
After he was heckled in the Commons, Leigh pressed his point and said angry Brexit supporters would be left wondering why they had voted for EU withdrawal if the UK could not control its borders.
He added that the Government was doing the “bare minimum” via the bill to try to “deal with the scandal of cross-Channel crossings”, which he warned are putting “so many lives at risk”.
Taken out of context
Sir Edward was forced to defend comments on Ukrainian refugees made in the House of Commons recently, insisting his message had been misinterpreted.
He had congratulated Home Secretary Priti Patel for measures to allow some Ukraine family members to rejoin UK relatives, but added: “We’re under extreme pressure in terms of housing and jobs.”
“Everybody wants to be humanitarian and she’s under pressure to have a visa-free scheme like the rest of Europe, but may I actually congratulate her on her proportionate response.
“I think we have to remember that, unlike the rest of Europe, we have uniquely liberal labour laws and we speak English, so we are the country of choice for mass immigration.
“And therefore I do urge her to, as well as listen to all the humanitarian voices, to listen to the voices of people in Lincolnshire, who feel we’ve done our bit in terms of migration from eastern Europe. We’re under extreme pressure in terms of housing and jobs.
“I know this is difficult to say, but we have to be honest about this. And therefore may I be a correcting voice on this and congratulate her on her humanitarian but proportionate response and not throwing away the immigration rulebook.”