Drop The Target: Senior Conservative MPs demand five-year immigration ban

Pro-Brexit politicians tell PM their hardline plan 'will deliver on the will of the electorate'

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Senior Conservative MPs are demanding Theresa May impose a five-year ban on unskilled immigrant visas, arguing the focus should be on young, unemployed UK citizens.

Leave Means Leave, a hardline pro-Brexit group that wants to leave the EU single market and “take control” of the UK’s borders, is advocating a new points-based immigration system, combined with work permits, to bring down net migration to 50,000 per year – half the Government’s current target.

The group, which includes at least 30 Tory MPs and Lords including Owen Paterson, Dominic Raab and Gerald Howarth, said in a statement: “Brexit is not about splendid isolation – it’s about re-engaging with the world, without our wings clipped by the European Union.”

Steven Woolfe, an independent member of European parliament who represents the campaign, told LBC radio that the “philosophy” of the report was to “put Britain first” – in language similar to that of US President Donald Trump – to “reduce the numbers” over five years and bolster the number of staff for the Migration Advisory Council.

The former Ukip spokesman, who quit the party after an altercation in Brussels sent him to hospital, said in a statement on the campaign’s website: “This new British Working Visa System will deliver on the will of the electorate. It won’t mean pulling up the drawbridge, as we will continue to encourage the best and the brightest to migrate and settle here.”

“But by introducing strict controls, an annual cap and a five-year freeze on unskilled migrants, it will reduce net migration year on year, lessen the strain on our public services and help build a more cohesive society. It will be a system fit for 21st century Britain.”

There would be no cap on highly skilled workers entering the country under the plan, which encourages more UK citizens to work for the NHS.

A working visa would only be granted to someone with a job offer, who is sponsored by a company in the UK and has a minimum salary of £35,000. An immigrant would also have to take out a five-year private insurance plan to prevent them using the NHS until they are “qualified settlers”.

Critics of those who wish to cap immigration say the UK relies on an influx of both skilled and unskilled workers in industries that suffer a shortage of labour, such as social care, and that current unskilled workers have faced exploitation and discrimination, working for less than the minimum wage.

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The news comes after The Independent and Open Britain launched a joint campaign for the Government to abandon its target to lower net migration below 100,000 a year.

Anna Soubry MP, leading supporter of Open Britain, said the plan would not reduce immigrant numbers.

"That’s because we still need people from the EU and other parts of the world to come to Britain and help make our economy even stronger," she said.

She added: "Migrant workers contribute to our economy and to British culture – we should be welcoming them in the traditional spirit of British tolerance. Leave means Leave clearly don’t understand why British business relies on migrant workers.”

The Leave Means Leave report said the UK “ideally” would not guarantee permanent residency for EU nationals who came to the UK after Article 50 was triggered on 29 March, although they said it would be “wrong” to apply this rule retrospectively and asked the PM to apply a cut-off date for EU nationals this month.

The campaign also wants to ban new immigrants from gaining any benefits for at least five years, and only if they pay a set level of taxes during that time.

Pat McFadden, leading supporter of Open Britain, said: "The Prime Minister faces a choice. To go down the road advocated by this kind of plan, or to take a more realistic and honest approach to the Brexit negotiations on immigration and other matters."

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