RACE relations in Britain would suffer if the Government fails to “hold the line” on immigration, a former Tory minister has claimed.

Edward Leigh insisted the UK has been generous in welcoming people from different countries but told MPs a “sense of proportion” is required in response to an “overwhelming number” who want to come to the country.

There would be a “catastrophic effect” on race relations if this does not happen, Leigh said.

READ MORE: Scotland needs to 'step up to the plate' in asylum dispersal scheme, says Tory MP

After he was heckled in the Commons, Leigh pressed his point and said angry Brexit supporters would be left wondering why they had voted for EU withdrawal if the UK could not control its borders.

His comments came as MPs considered the Nationality and Borders Bill, which seeks to overhaul the immigration system.

Sir Edward said the Government was doing the “bare minimum” via the bill to try to “deal with the scandal of cross-Channel crossings”, which he warned are putting “so many lives at risk”.

On the pull factors to the UK, he said: “We have the most liberal labour laws in Europe, that we speak English – we can do nothing about that – that we have no national identity card, which I think is going to be increasingly essential in the modern world, that people can vanish into the community, that we already have large communities from all over the world.

“The pull factors are enormous and (French) president Macron, in a way, has got a point.”

Leigh said opponents of the Bill need to offer solutions, adding: “Everybody accepts that this cross-Channel trade is appalling, it’s criminalising desperate people, it is lining the pockets of gangsters – what is the solution?

“Such is the pull factor and the push factor that even if you did have offshore asylum claims for 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, it would probably make very little difference to the number of people desperate to get into this country by any means at all.

“I repeat that what we have in this Bill is the bare minimum to try and break this cycle of it being just about economically attractive to make this appallingly dangerous journey.

“I think we have to have a variety of measures in our toolkit. I don’t know whether we’ll ever resort to pushback, although the Greeks have pursued it very successfully, I don’t know whether we’ll ever resort to offshoring, although the Australians have used it very successfully.”

Independent MP Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour Party leader, said there are higher numbers of refugees in poorer countries and questioned why the Tory MP appeared to be “moving in the opposite direction” compared with their supportive offers.

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Leigh replied: “I don’t think that’s true, I think actually whether you’re talking about our response to Ugandan refugees, to Hong Kong and many other areas, we’ve actually been generous.

“We have to have a sense of proportion. Such is the overwhelming number of people who want to come here that we just have to hold the line.

“If we don’t, it would have a catastrophic effect on race relations, yes, it would, because people would be angry about it, they would think ‘why did I vote Brexit when I can’t even control my own borders? What is the Government doing?’.

“The Government, to be responsible, has to have a response to try and deal with illegal cross-Channel crossings. And if you look at all these amendments, they’d just add to the pull factors.”