Priti Patel pledges 'wholesale reform' of UK's 'broken' immigration system

23 May 2021, 23:26 | Updated: 24 May 2021, 18:13

Priti Patel made a major speech on immigration on Monday
Priti Patel made a major speech on immigration on Monday. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Priti Patel pledged "wholesale reform" of the UK's "broken" immigration system in a major speech on Monday, with plans for a "fully digital border" within five years.

The Home Secretary promised to deliver a system that works for the "law-abiding majority" and against those who seek to "abuse our hospitality and generous spirit".

She also spoke of plans to launch the US-style Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) which requires visitors to the UK to obtain an electronic permit before travelling.

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The Home Office said it would make the border more secure, with automated checks to prevent foreign criminals travelling to the country while enabling the Government to count who is coming in and going out.

“We will have greater accuracy on numbers, we will be able to count in and count out who is in our country," the Home Secretary said.

"We will not have to work around the hypotheticals around net migration targets or numbers or things of that nature, and even speculate whether numbers will go up or down.”

ETAs will be required by anyone without a visa or immigration status – although they will not be needed by Irish citizens – with ministers promising the system will be operational by the end of 2025.

That said, it was not made clear how much ETAs will cost visitors once they are introduced.

In her speech to a conference organised by the Bright Blue and British Future think tanks, Ms Patel said anything less than "wholesale reform" of the immigration system would not meet the demands of the public.

"They want a new system that works for the law-abiding majority and against those who hope to abuse our hospitality and generous spirit,” she said.

"The immigration system is broken, but this country isn’t. We can’t fix the system overnight, but we will fix it.

"We have to make sure the system reflects the values and wishes of the vast majority of Britons of all colours and creeds. They simply want an approach to immigration that is fair but firm."

It comes after the Government set out plans in the Queen’s Speech earlier this month to toughen laws to deny refugee status to any asylum seekers who have passed through a safe country before reaching the UK.

The proposal was condemned by the United Nations refugee agency and by charities who said it would be a betrayal of Britain’s historic tradition of providing protection to people fleeing persecution.