SCOTLAND’S largest party paid tribute to the migrant workers killed serving the British public during the coronavirus crisis yesterday as they railed against controversial new immigration rules.
Slamming the “piecemeal, back-of-the-envelope” plan brought forward by the UK Government to end freedom of movement ahead of Brexit, the SNP’s Stuart McDonald MP hit out at the “appalling timing” as more and more foreign-born frontline workers lose their lives to coronavirus.
McDonald said “too many have lost their lives”, including “consultants from Sudan, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Uganda and Pakistan; a hospital porter from the Philippines, doctors from Germany and Iraq; nurses from Zimbabwe, Trinidad and South Africa, support workers from India and Ghana and many, many more”.
He went on: “Each and every one deserves our tribute and our gratitude.
“But a more fitting tribute would be a coherent and robust response to the crisis, one which genuinely seeks to ensure we are all in this together and doing whatever it takes.
“That is not what this bill provides.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel told MPs the pandemic has “shone a light on how we value those who provide compassionate care across health and social care” and said the changes in the bill “will play a vital role in our recovery plans for the future”.
She stated: “It will end free movement and pave the way for a firmer, fairer and simpler system and will attract people we need to drive our country through the recovery stage of coronavirus, laying the foundation of a high wage, high skill productive economy.”
But McDonald claimed it will “destroy opportunities for future generations and will split even more families apart” due to new entry and earnings rules. It will also, he said, “drown” business in red tape, trigger depopulation in parts of the UK and “drive a wedge between us and our European neighbours”.
Former Tory minister Caroline Nokes called for a phased approach, telling Patel: “This time last year, matters were very different to today.
“I was an immigration minister seeking to find a route through a minefield in a time of record employment.
“I have grave fears that [Patel] might find herself doing it in a time of record unemployment.
“And perhaps those roles which British workers have been able to choose not to do over the last ten years might be more attractive than they previously were.” She added: “We know that one in six of those brave care workers on the front line of the battle against coronavirus are non-UK nationals.
“I commend the Home Secretary for her commitment to extend visas for doctors and nurses, but what of care workers – are they to be the Cinderella service, forgotten once again?
“And what of ancillary staff in our hospitals, so crucial in a war against a virus when repeated deep cleaning is an absolute imperative?
“We cannot open hospitals if we cannot clean the loos.”
Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, said: “In the midst of this crisis the Government is putting forward an immigration system containing a salary threshold of £25,600 – it sends a signal and tells people that anyone earning less than that is unskilled and unwelcome in our country.”
He said earnings don’t reflect value to society, adding: “Those who clapped (for carers) on Thursday are only too happy to vote through a bill today that will send a powerful message to those same people – they are not considered to be skilled workers.”