What Theresa May said about immigration in her infamous speech to Tory conference

The set out her views on immigration in her 2015 speech to Conservative party conference

Jon Stone
Wednesday 04 October 2017 14:30 BST
May makes immigration warning

In her speech to the 2015 Conservative Party conference Theresa May left the country in no doubt about her views on immigration.

The controversial address blamed immigrants for problems with public services and warned that "millions" wanted to come to the UK.

Here are some of the claims she made – and some of the reaction she got.

Her claims:

She warned that “millions” of people wanted to migrate to the UK.

“There are millions of people in poorer countries who would love to live in Britain, and there is a limit to the amount of immigration any country can and should take.”

She said Britain should focus on aid rather than helping refugees who had travelled to Europe.

“The best way of helping the most people is not by bringing relatively small numbers of refugees to this country, but by working with the vast numbers who remain in the region”

She argued that immigrants could make society less “cohesive”.

“When immigration is too high, when the pace of change is too fast, it’s impossible to build a cohesive society.”

She blamed immigrants for pressures on public services.

“It’s difficult for schools and hospitals and core infrastructure like housing and transport to cope.”

She repeated claims that immigration pushes down wages.

“We know that for people in low-paid jobs, wages are forced down even further while some people are forced out of work altogether.”

She blamed unemployment, the housing crisis, and underinvestment in schools on immigration.

“Not all of the consequences can be managed, and doing so for many of them comes at a high price. We need to build 210,000 new homes every year to deal with rising demand. We need to find 900,000 new school places by 2024. And there are thousands of people who have been forced out of the labour market, still unable to find a job.”

She claimed there was “close to zero” benefit from immigration, contrary to almost all economists’ analyses.

“While there are benefits of selective and controlled immigration, at best the net economic and fiscal effect of high immigration is close to zero. So there is no case, in the national interest, for immigration of the scale we have experienced over the last decade.”

She claimed EU immigration was “unbalanced” and “unsustainable” – and that the rules had to change.

“For years, net migration from within the EU was balanced. The number of people coming to the UK was matched by the number of Brits and Europeans moving to other EU countries.

“In recent years, the figures have become badly unbalanced … The numbers coming from Europe are unsustainable and the rules have to change.”

She explicitly attacked EU freedom of movement rules.

“Free movement rules don’t just mean European nationals have the right to reside in Britain, they now mean anybody who has married a European can come here almost without condition.”

She suggested asylum seekers should not even be allowed into Britain before their claims were assessed.

“At the moment, the main way people claim asylum here is when they’re already in Britain. That fails on three counts … I want to offer asylum and refuge to people in parts of the world affected by conflict and oppression, rather than to those who have made it to Britain”.

She claimed a significant number of asylum seekers were “foreign criminals”.

“There is a huge difference between a young Syrian family fleeing the tyranny of ISIL or Assad, and a student who claims asylum once he has been discovered overstaying his visa, or a foreign criminal about to be sent to a prison in his own country.”

She dismissed the idea that Britain was a “country of immigrants”.

“It’s often said – usually by advocates of open-door immigration – that Britain is by definition a country of immigrants. In fact, compared to the countries of the New World and compared to the countries of Europe with their shifting land borders, we have until recently always been a country of remarkable population stability.”

Their reaction:

Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said Ms May was peddling “nonsense myths” and “vilifying migrants”.

“We are astonished by the irresponsible rhetoric and pandering to anti-immigration sentiment from the Home Secretary. It is yet another example of the Home Secretary turning away the world’s best and brightest, putting internal party politics ahead of the country, and helping our competitor economies instead of our own,” Simon Walker, the group’s director general said.

“The myth of the job-stealing-immigrant is nonsense. Immigrants do not steal jobs, they help fill vital skill shortages and, in doing so, create demand and more jobs. If they did steal jobs, we wouldn’t have the record levels of employment we currently do.

“It is about time the Home Office stopped undermining business and our own government’s efforts to secure productivity growth. Political leaders should stop vilifying migrants and acknowledge the hugely important contribution they make to this country’s economy.”

Refugee Council chief executive Maurice Wren said Ms May's speech was “thoroughly chilling”.

“The Home Secretary's clear intention to close Britain's border to refugees fleeing for their lives is thoroughly chilling, as is her bitter attack on the fundamental principle enshrined in international law that people fleeing persecution should be able to claim asylum in Britain.”

Allan Hogarth, of Amnesty International, said Ms May’s was seeking to make it harder for “desperate people to claim the protection they need”.

"Theresa May's claim that mass immigration has undermined public support for refugees flies in the face of reality.

“Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK have signed petitions, tens of thousands took to the streets and many more have written to their MPs to say that people fleeing war and persecution should be welcome in the UK.

“Meanwhile, the Home Secretary sets out to make it harder and harder for desperate people to claim the protection they need and the UK has a duty to offer."

Siarah Grant from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said Ms May was “scaremongering”.

“This is quite shocking because it sounded like a speech from a shadow home secretary. Let’s not forget that Theresa May has been prevailing over immigration for the last five years, so this is under her watch.

“More importantly, it’s the language she used. She’s talking about social cohesion – immigration destroying social cohesion. This is scaremongering. Her figures, her statistics have been selective. Immigration contributes.

“This is an attack against campaigners, against human rights lawyers.”

Alp Mehmet from Migration Watch UK said the speech was “absolutely necessary”.

“She’s been saying much this for many, many years. I think what she was referring to mass immigration and she was speaking for 75 per cent or more of the people of this country. She was talking about the consequences of immigration on this scale.

“People in this country want less migration. That’s all it is – lower immigration. It was a frank and clear, and absolutely necessary speech. It’s not an attack on anyone it’s simply stating the facts, and it’s not before time. People in this country will welcome it.”

Newspaper reaction:

“A new low in the politics of refugees and migration” – the Guardian

“Dangerous and factually wrong” – the Daily Telegraph

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