Theresa May must introduce a strict points-based immigration system by 2020 or face a furious backlash from Brexit voters, a former Tory Cabinet minister warned yesterday.
n her first interview since being sacked from the Government, Theresa Villiers said that the referendum vote to quit the EU must be seen as a demand to end “open-door migration”.
And she said the time had come to put a stop to the “free-for-all” system at Britain’s borders.
Her intervention comes as the Prime Minister continues to consider how to withdraw Britain from the EU.
It was being seen as an early signal of the growth of an “awkward squad” of Tory backbenchers determined to oppose any attempt by the Government to try to dilute Brexit.
Former Northern Ireland Secretary Mrs Villiers said that tough new border rules would be a crucial part of Britain’s future outside the EU.
She said: “The principle of a system whereby on a regular basis, probably every year, you look at where your skilled shortages are and what sort of numbers you need to fill your skills is a sensible way to have a reformed immigration system.
“It gets the benefits of immigration but puts an end to the free for all, open door migration.”
And she insisted the new system should be in place by the time of the next general election due in 2020.
“That’s an achievable and sensible goal. I very much hope that it’s going to be possible to deliver that.”
Ms Villiers also called for border officials to get enhanced powers for blocking suspected extremists.
Under current rules, officials face a higher burden of proof blocking the entry of suspected Islamist who come from other EU countries than from other parts of the world.
“Consideration of whether that rule is currently jeopardising our security and we therefore want to make changes to deal with that situation – it makes a lot of sense for the new Home Secretary to consider that,” she said.
Mrs May has said that voters want “control” over EU free movement but has not made clear how border rules will operate once the UK cuts ties with Brussels.
Ms Villiers was one of six Cabinet ministers who backed the Vote Leave campaign during the referendum.
She was ousted from the Cabinet last month when the new Prime Minister former her team.
Her intervention came after a report from the Westminster-based think tank Policy Exchange called for sweeping changes to citizenship rules.
It suggested the Government should establish a new Whitehall department to oversee border control policy and called for a new official population register and two-tier citizenship system distinguishing between permanent and temporary residents.
Former Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith yesterday called for Britain not to have to pay any money into the EU’s budget, saying “That’s what they (the British people) voted for – to take back control.”
Asked about Ms Villiers’ call for a points-based immigration system, the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman said: “Since 2010 a number of reforms have been introduced. We need to make sure those are working and having the effect we want them to.
“We continue to look at what we can do to cut abuse and to focus on attracting the brightest and the best.”
The spokeswoman added: “This Government has been clear that we want to bring net migration down to sustainable levels.
“It now important that we look at what further action can be taken, recognising the challenges that we face.
“The Home Secretary and the Home Office are responsible for immigration and we’ll be taking forward that work.
In her interview, Ms Villiers also admitted she was still amazed that the Brexit cause, which she had championed throughout her political career, triumphed in the referendum.
“I didn’t think that the leave campaign had won,” she says, recalling referendum results night on June 23. “I didn’t see it coming. I still find it quite hard to take in.”
She admitted being upset at her sacking by the Prime Minister.
“It was a difficult conversation because I was obviously pretty upset, to be honest,” Mrs Villiers says of her meeting with Mrs May. “These kind of conversations are never easy.”
She confirmed that she was offered a junior ministerial brief at the Home Office but turned it down to “step off the treadmill for a while”.
“Politics is an uncertain path for anyone. It certainly comes with its ups and downs. To be very frank, I suppose I’m still suffering regret, grief, loss as you do in these kinds of situations. But I’ve just got to accept it and move on,” she said.
“I’m really sad to have left my Northern Ireland role behind. It’s a very special place, I left a lot of friends, the people are great and I felt I was able to achieve things.”