Theresa May pledges tightening of immigration rules

Some foreigners are ‘abusing our good will’, UK’s home secretary claims

British Home Secretary Theresa May said it is “impossible to build a cohesive society” and the UK needs to have an immigration limit. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

British Home Secretary Theresa May said it is “impossible to build a cohesive society” and the UK needs to have an immigration limit. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images


British home secretary Theresa May faced an angry backlash from business leaders, charities and political opponents as she announced a sharp tightening of rules for asylum and immigration.

In a hard-hitting speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Ms May declared the UK “does not need” large numbers of foreign arrivals. She warned they are putting British workers out of jobs, forcing down wages and making it impossible to create a “cohesive society”.

The Institute of Directors (IoD), an association for professional leaders, accused Ms May of “vilifying” migrants for party political reasons and branded her claims about their impact on the economy as “nonsense”.

Ms May’s speech was widely perceived as a pitch to be the right-wing choice to replace David Cameron in an eventual succession battle. It came on the same day London mayor Boris Johnson reasserted his position as the darling of the party’s one-nation wing with a well-received, joke-packed address.

Urging party members to “put Britain first”, Ms May said she would act to reduce the numbers gaining asylum after arriving in the UK and to make sure overseas students left the country after their courses.

But the IoD accused her of jeopardising Britain’s economic recovery with “irresponsible rhetoric and pandering to anti-immigration sentiment”.

Director general Simon Walker said: “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.

“The myth of the job-stealing immigrant is nonsense,” he added. “Immigrants do not steal jobs. They help fill vital skill shortages and, in doing so, create demand and more jobs.”

Remarkable stability

Her proposals for asylum mark a major departure from the system Britain uses to offer refuge for those fleeing conflict and persecution around the world and appear to be aimed at reducing the numbers coming to the country.

They include major reforms such as deporting refugees if their home countries become safe by the time their temporary leave to remain in Britain ends, in a process described by Ms May as “safe return reviews”.

In addition, those who have travelled through safe countries, such as the thousands crossing Europe from the Middle East and North Africa, will be given the “minimum stay of protection” and “no automatic right” to live in the UK.

The most vulnerable, such as the 20,000 due to arrive from camps neighbouring Syria, will be offered a longer stay.

Ms May said Britain would end the “absurdity” of EU nationals claiming asylum, alleging that the relatively small number of 551 claims in the past five years has cost taxpayers £4 million.

Legal definitions

United Nations

The home secretary told delegates: “There are people who need our help, and there are people who are abusing our good will – and I know whose side I’m on.”

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron accused Mrs May of “encouraging division and hatred”, while Labour shadow home secretary Andy Burnham said she had forgotten her own advice that the Tories should stop being “the nasty party”.

But the prime minister defended Mrs May.

“She’s right,” Mr Cameron told the BBC. “A strong and cohesive society needs immigration to be properly under control, and our view at the moment is that it is too high.”