Who could have predicted that 2017 would have been such a rollercoaster of a political year? Wildly changing opinion polls, an unexpected General Election, the emergence of fake news, Donald Trump’s tweets, ongoing Brexit negotiations. No one can say that politics at a national or international level is dull or uninteresting.
Naturally, our departure from the European Union on March 29th 2019, still dominates the political agenda. Such a monumental decision triggered by the nation’s referendum decision requires unhindered attention and determination from Government ministers. So, it’s somewhat surprising that some politicians are criticising ministers for their focus on Brexit issues.
Before Christmas we witnessed a significant step forward in the negotiations, as Theresa May successfully concluded initial talks and hammered out an agreement on what form the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland will take. This is an important success as it concludes the first phase of negotiations and means we can proceed with the vital discussions on trade arrangements with European Union countries.
There was other significant news when as Immigration Minister I was able to publish figures that demonstrate that net immigration into the United Kingdom fell by nearly a third in the last year. That’s a fall of 106,000 year-on-year. The Government has focussed on building a controlled immigration system, making sure that people are in the UK legally.
We’re tackling the problem of illegal immigration. New powers mean we are cracking down on rogue landlords and employers who abuse the system, who make it easier for illegal migrants to live and work in Britain. Early this year we will start using new laws that will close or freeze the bank accounts of illegal migrants. When we entered government in 2010, the previous Labour Government had refused to tackle the problem of foreign criminals in our country, allowing thousands to continue to abuse our country and turn to crime. Our hard-line approach of removing foreign offenders who have a serious crime record has seen 41,000 criminals returned to their country since 2011, and another 120,000 denied entry at our borders.
I know that taking back control of our borders was at the forefront of many people’s minds when they decided to vote to leave the EU, so these are important steps in the right direction as we prepare the way to take back that control.