'No amnesty on our watch'

After Tory London mayor Boris Johnson calls for an amnesty for illegal immigrants - in defiance of h

Our policy on an amnesty for illegal immigrants remains unchanged and is very clear – those here illegally should go home, not go to the front of the queue for jobs and benefits.

We have a proud tradition of offering sanctuary to those who truly need our help but to grant an amnesty would create a significant pull factor to the UK and would undermine the asylum system as a whole.

We shouldn’t be under any illusions. What start out as good intentions could end up causing more harm, playing into the hands of traffickers who try to smuggle people into the country in dangerous and life-threatening conditions.

If you need international protection we will give it to you – and we will give it proudly. If you want to come here and work, we will let you – provided you have the skills we need. But you have to play by the rules and if you don’t we expect you to leave. Our system is fair – but it is also firm.

There is now a triple ring of security that protects Britain: fingerprint visas, ID cards for foreign nationals that lock people to one identity, and our high-tech electronic border controls that check people against police, immigration and customs watch-lists and will cover even more passenger journeys by the end of this year.

Our new force at the border last year alone stopped over 28,000 individual attempts to cross the Channel illegally and by moving our controls abroad we are stopping people before they even set foot on British soil. Last year the UK Border Agency searched more than 1 million lorries at our juxtaposed controls in France and Belgium.

We are also taking tough enforcement action to make sure employers cannot benefit from employing people who have no right to be here. Since the start of the new civil penalties regime last year the UK Border Agency has issued over 1,000 fines to employers who hire illegal workers, worth over £10 million.

Anyone who’s here illegally should go home – they shouldn’t be rewarded with an amnesty. Let’s be clear – access to jobs, benefits and healthcare will be reserved for those who play by the rules and make a contribution to Britain.

Illegal immigration leads to exploitation, tax avoidance by the employing as well as employed, health and safety abuse, and distortion in the labour market.

An amnesty may sound superficially attractive, but ultimately leads to more, not less, exploitation.

Phil Woolas is Border and Immigration Minister