BRITAIN has high expectations of the behaviours, standards and values of which we are all proud, and I am the first Home Secretary in a generation that is actually able to define an immigration system without being constrained by the EU.
This is an incredible opportunity. And it falls to us to ensure that these rules are not just a technocratic exercise. But that they are an expression of our values – our British values. We shouldn’t brush aside the legitimate concerns that many people – most people – have had about the way immigration has been managed, especially the anxieties of those on low pay or in low skilled jobs.
The irresponsible way Labour increased immigration, without any real mandate, has understandably undermined the public’s trust. They lost faith that politicians will manage immigration sustainably.
But that doesn’t mean they are hostile to individuals. Just look at the reaction to difficulties faced by Afghan interpreters who helped our troops. Or Caribbean families who started coming here in the 1950s. When the British public cries out for decency, they’re usually right.
The Windrush scandal was a public policy failure many years in the making. These were people who rightfully settled here from the Commonwealth decades ago and became pillars of our communities. The way the system had been treating them – over many years – deeply offended our sense of fairness. So we are doing everything to put it right.
Our eyes were opened in a different way by the tragedy of Grenfell. That fire affected a truly diverse community of residents. For me, even responding to it was the most moving and harrowing experience of my life. And it laid bare how some communities have not been given the same standards and opportunities that we all expect. We have to put that right too.
But there is a wider, more positive story here. It is my strong belief that immigration has been good for Britain. We have adopted many of the best bits of other countries. It has made us a global hub for culture, business and travel. It has broadened our horizons and boosted our economy in so many ways. It has made our home stronger. And after Brexit we will still need it to stay strong.
And I say to those EU citizens, who have already made the UK their home. You have benefited our country, you are part of our country, part of many of our families, part of our home. So let me be very clear: deal or no deal, we want you to stay, we need you to stay, you can stay.
Thanks to the referendum, we now have a unique opportunity to reshape our immigration system for the future. A skills-based, single system that is opened up to talent from across the world. A system that doesn’t discriminate between any one region or country. A system based on merit. That judges people not by where they are from, but on what they can do.
What people want – and they will get – is control of our own system. With a lower, and sustainable, level of net migration. And above all, that has to mean one thing: an end to freedom of movement. A safe home. An open, welcoming, tolerant home. And finally, a home of shared values. A home where all the different residents and guests come together under one roof. With one common set of values to live by, for everyone’s benefit and comfort. We welcome newcomers. In turn, we expect them to live by our British values. And it is only right that we make it clear to all new citizens what we are for, and what we are against.
The existing “Life in the UK” test for new citizens is not enough. Maybe it is helpful for people to know the name of the sixth wife of Henry VIII. But far more important to me, is that they also understand the liberal, democratic values that bind our society together.
Citizenship should mean more than being able to win a pub quiz, we need to make it a British values test – and that’s exactly what I will bring in.
It’s about signing up to those values that we share and live by together. It’s about starting as you mean to go on. It’s about integration, not segregation. And I’m determined to break down barriers to integration wherever I find them.
Take for example, the most basic barrier of all: language. When I was the Communities Secretary, we found that over 700,000 people in the UK cannot even speak a basic level of English. How can we possibly make a common home together if we can’t even communicate with each other?
Sajid Javid is the Home Secretary. This is an edited version of his party conference speech.