Natalie Elphicke is MP for Dover.
The Coronavirus pandemic is without doubt the most serious crisis of our lifetimes.
Yet we cannot allow life to stand still while we battle the virus – especially as it is now starting to come under control.
We must continue to plan for the future.
That means completing the Brexit process by seeking the right long-term relationship with the EU, taking back control of our borders and reforming human rights laws.
We have a strong action plan to deliver a comprehensive trade deal with the EU.
We need to be just as clear and robust when it comes to taking back control of our borders, strengthening security and putting an end to the abuses of European human rights laws.
The Home Office has been making progress on immigration policy.
Last week saw the House of Commons move forward with a post-EU Immigration Bill that will bring in a points based immigration system.
This system will ensure that immigration is controlled and that we are able to attract the skilled workforce we need – not just from the EU but from around the world.
By the same token, we will be able to better manage the inward migration of lower skilled workers – so encouraging all employers to invest in British workers and British jobs.
Yet taking back control of our borders is about so much more.
It is about controlling our border security and making sure we can decide who should and should not be allowed into the country.
In Dover & Deal people feel very strongly about border security.
We can look across the English Channel and see the twinkling lights of Calais.
France is less than 21 miles away – three times closer than London.
People traffickers and ruthless organised criminal gangs roam free in Calais.
They have big business operations illegally smuggling people across the English Channel and into Britain.
For years they have carried on their activities without pause.
While officials in Britain and France make solemn pledges to bring these crooks to book, the trafficking gangs brazenly carry on in plain sight.
They simply go down to the beach and squash migrants into dangerously overcrowded small boats for treacherous night-time crossings of the Channel.
Lives are nightly put at peril – and lives have been lost. The Dover Straits is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and the conditions in the Channel can be treacherous.
In December 2018, Sajid Javid – then Home Secretary – vowed to end this “migrant crisis”.
He promised tough talks with the French.
Yet still the problem continues. So far this year over 1,500 illegal entrants have broken into Britain in this way.
This problem only be answered in the detail and with the right laws.
That’s why a clear action plan is vital – not just to end the small boat journeys, but to boost our border security across the board. There are five key areas to this:
The key stopping the small boat crossings is for illegal entrants to be returned to France. Because everyone knows the best way to stop these crossings is for all illegal entrants to be returned.
Only when migrants and traffickers alike know they will not succeed will they stop trying.
This has been successful in Australia and we should take a similarly robust stance.
At the Dover frontline, that means a new agreement should be sought with the French.
There is a belief that the French would never agree.
Why not? We are unhappy about the illegal arrivals – the people of Calais are even unhappier about the criminal gangs and squalid migrant camps in their midst.
It is in the interests of Britain and France to stop these crossings. An agreement on returns is the key to ending the small boat trips as well as securing the Dover/Calais border more generally.
Stopping migrants from trying because they know they won’t succeed matters.
Yet so too does tackling the trafficking gangs themselves – by disruption and by bringing criminals to justice.
It is vital to invest in this and for the UK and France to work closely together.
This already happens, yet it is clear from the fact that the activities continue that more could and should be done.
Investment in resources to achieve this is vital.
Asylum laws were devised long ago to protect people fleeing oppressive regimes.
Yet with some 50 million people displaced by conflict, the system cannot work at such a scale.
Encouraging people to travel to the UK risks lives, as we have seen.
That’s why it is important to persuade people to go to the places of safety we support around the world – and once we have left the EU we should reform wider human rights laws, taking advantage of the wider margin of appreciation available for public policy.
That includes stopping crime and the exploitation of vulnerable people by crooks.
Human rights reform matters to far more than small boat crossings.
It needs to be applied to all illegal entries. To visa overstayers. And to the foreign criminals – including murderers and rapists – we struggle to chuck out.
It is vital to make sure we embrace the margin of appreciation on article 5 to enhance our border security.
While many people cannot get legal aid, human rights lawyers can and do.
So they are able to use our hard earned taxpayers’ money to help undesirable people remain.
Amending our laws would enable the problems of bogus human rights claims and endless taxpayer funded appeals to be stopped.
The USA has had a “visa waiver” system for years. They charge the equivalent of £10 for a two-year visa waiver.
We should consider adopting the US system and apply it to a visa waiver scheme for all visitors to the UK.
£10 for every visitor every two years would provide hundreds of millions of pounds (in a post-COVID Britain when people visit again) that could be used to invest in and modernise our border security systems.
Along with money, the visa waiver system would provide a wealth of information that we could use to strengthen our wider intelligence effort.
Customs declarations are currently made by less than 150,000 traders. This can be expected to more than double to 320,000 traders at the end of EU transition.
While the number of customs declarations will go from some 60 million a year to over 300 million, the collection of border dues – tariffs and VAT – will become a big issue.
Post-COVID Britain will be debt heavy and revenue hungry.
Yet it’s hard to make the most of our borders being an asset when there are 38 organisations and 57 different systems operating at the border.
Dover and our port communities have long had great expertise in customs systems and border controls.
Leaving the EU is a chance to modernise our border systems and organisation: collecting money and stopping illegal entrants with an efficiency and speed that could be the envy of the world.
We ought to invest right now in physical and digital border and customs systems in our port and border communities, so we are ready on day one for the opportunities that await.