In a 1978 interview to mark her third year as leader of the Conservative Party, Margaret Thatcher addressed public concerns with immigration, stating that ‘people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped’.
Goodness knows what word she would use to describe the situation we face today.
Anyone who has knocked on doors or surveyed their constituents in recent years will tell you the public have had enough. Immigration into the UK is the number one concern to the British public and, in my judgment, a party that does not address it will not win.
In 2003 427,000 people arrived in Britain. In the years that followed it was 518,000, 496,000, 529,000, 527,000, 538,000, 528,000, 553,000, 531,000, and 426,000. Yet it is even more serious than bare numbers suggest. Because we have, quite literally, lost control of our borders.
Our membership of the EU with its dogma of free movement of people means the Government of Britain is powerless to prevent EU citizens coming to the UK. It is this central fact that must now be addressed.
For we have reached the absurd situation where we are turning away skilled people from beyond the EU who would make a valuable and welcome contribution to the UK in order to try and meet an unattainable pledge to cut net migration to the tens of thousands.
Margaret Thatcher often said controversial things. She confronted difficult problems. And as she said in her maiden speech in the House of Lords she never knowingly made an uncontroversial speech in her life. But controversial is often right.
Let me emulate this in some small ways this evening.
The time has come from Britain to again govern her own borders. It should be our Government, accountable to the British people, who decide who comes to live and work in Britain.
This is what Margaret Thatcher would have done. We should not ask for this from our European partners. We must demand it. And now.
This post is based on a speech delivered by Conor Burns MP at the Inaugural Margaret Thatcher Centre ‘Margaret Thatcher Memorial Lecture’.