Theresa May and Rithika Siddhartha
Theresa May being interviewed by Eastern Eye associate editor Rithika Siddhartha.


By Rithika Siddhartha

Prime minister Theresa May has said immigration has been good for Britain, but that voters were concerned about uncontrolled migrants arriving in the UK.

May also said her government would set up a Commission for Countering Extremism as British authorities tackle home-grown jihadis who have been radicalised within the UK.

In an exclusive interview with Eastern Eye on Monday (29), May stressed her commitment to increasing diversity in British society and said her administration will work to ensure that there is no disparity of treatment for people from different backgrounds.

“I think that it’s wrong that people who do the same job are paid differently because of their background,” she said.

“it’s wrong that people who do the same job are paid differently because of their background”

A week after Salman Abedi blew himself up, killing 22 people and wounding dozens others as they left a concert at Manchester Arena last Monday (22), May outlined her government’s plan to stop similar attacks from happening.

“I think it’s very important that we deal with the extremism that leads to the radicalisation,” May said, adding that authorities should act in a way that doesn’t harm community relationships.

The prime minister was referring to the controversial Prevent anti-radicalisation programme, which critics say disproportionately targets minorities, in particular, British Muslims.

The breakdown of trust between communities and the police and other investigating authorities has been a challenge for successive governments.

Questions have also been raised after it emerged that Abedi was on the radar of British intelligence services. His odd behaviour had been reported to the police by the local community in Manchester.

“(With regards to radicalisation), we actually add to what we are already doing. We will set up a Commission for Countering Extremism, which will support the public and private sectors, and civil society to identify better extremism.

“It will also put forward a positive view about being British and the values that we share,” the prime minister said.

Theresa May answers questions
Prime Minister Theresa May answers questions from the studio audience during a joint Channel 4 and Sky News general election programme recorded at Sky studios in Osterley, west London, May 29, 2017. (Photo: Reuters/Stefan Rousseau/Pool)

May’s manifesto mentions a new integration strategy that will help isolated communities engage with the wider world.

“By definition it is something that we would be doing in government, but I think it is part of this overall picture about what we can deal with issues around extremism, and also about promoting the positive aspects about living in Britain and positive British values,” May told Eastern Eye.

“When I was home secretary, we published a counter extremism strategy and one of the things within that was we asked (Dame) Louise Casey to do a review of isolated communities.

“we do need an integration strategy that is enabling our communities to feel part of being British”

“What’s clearly come out of that and our other observations is we do need an integration strategy that is enabling our communities to feel part of being British and promoting British values.”

Among the low points of May’s tenure as home secretary (from 2010 till July last year) were “go home vans” which travelled around boroughs with a substantial minority population, urging those who were illegally in Britain to return to their countries of origin.

The move was condemned by community representatives and also the opposition, and the vans were subsequently withdrawn. May admitted that the proposal was a blunt instrument but urged Asians and minorities to vote for her on June 8.

“People will have a very crucial choice to make. The choice at this election is going to be about who is going to negotiate Brexit, get it right for the whole of the UK and make a success of it, and have a plan to take Britain into the future.

“And that needs strong and stable leadership,” she said, repeating her description of the opposition as a coalition of chaos with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn propped up by the Scottish Nationalists and the Liberal Democrats.

Asked about the negative perception about immigration, May said it had been good for Britain, but what worried people was uncontrolled immigration.

“We have rules to control people outside the EU, in the future we will be able to control immigration inside the EU when we leave,” she told Eastern Eye.

“we will be able to control immigration inside the EU when we leave”

Figures released in May show that net migration to Britain in the year to December 2016 was 248,000, down 84,000 on the previous year and the lowest estimated level since the year to March 2014, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Net migration of EU citizens fell 51,000 year-on-year to 133,000.

The Conservatives pledged to bring down migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands, but have not had much success with their pledge, a key plank of the 2010 election. Included in the 2017 Conservative manifesto are proposals to toughen visa requirements for students, and doubling the Immigration Skills Charge on firms that employ migrant workers to £2,000 a year by the end of parliament.

The funds generated would be invested in skills training for British workers. There are also plans to raise the income threshold for Britons who wish to sponsor migrants for family visas.

This has an impact on British Asians who wish to bring their spouses from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka to the UK. In the past, India has raised the issue of student and employment visas with their British counterparts.

Most recently, it was discussed in May when Indian and British officials took part in the first Home Affairs Dialogue.

May, who visited India last year after becoming prime minister, described India as a dynamic country and one that has changed enormously in recent years.

“Prime minister (Narendra) Modi has a very clear vision about where he wants to take India, and there is a lot that UK and India can do working together,” she said.