A HUGE problem is facing Britain but too many people shy away from it. There have been great debates about asylum yet the wider, and much more important, issue of immigration has been avoided for a generation.
Home Office figures published this week showed that grants of settlement have doubled since 1997. Of course, some migration in both directions is natural and welcome. And the immigrants who are already here have made their own considerable contributions to our society. The issue now is the scale of future immigration which is a real cause of concern.
Successive opinion polls indicate that the subject has shot up the agenda in recent years. In the mid-1990s, only 5 to 10 per cent mentioned immigration to pollsters as an issue of concern. But a recent YouGov poll found that it now comes top, with 56 per cent mentioning it, ahead of even crime or health.
The reason comes down to numbers. Net foreign immigration — those who come minus those who leave — was 245,000 in 2002. This was more than twice the level of 1997 and the trend is rising. For the first time in our history, we are adding to our population by immigration. The Government’s own figures, albeit extremely conservative, show our population increasing by 5.6 million over the next three decades. This is equivalent to five times the population of Birmingham; and 85 per cent of it will be due to new immigration.
Where are we going to put all these people? At present rates they will add roughly one million to the Government’s projections for new housing needs over the 1996-2021 planning period. A quarter of new houses will be required for immigrants. Yet we already have severe congestion. England now has more people per square mile than India, and the South East is twice as crowded as the Netherlands, the most crowded country in Europe. Common sense suggests that it is simply absurd to let immigration add to our overcrowding.
None of these numbers include illegal immigrants. But the Government has effectively lost control of our borders. Only one in ten asylum-seekers is recorded as leaving Britain, although six out of ten have their claims rejected. And 1.5 million visas are issued every year to students and visitors but nobody checks them in or out. Nor has anyone any idea how many illegal immigrants arrive in the back of a lorry. Still less is there an effective system for detecting and removing illegal immigrants.
As whistle-blowers have so clearly demonstrated, the administration of the system is a shambles. So is the system itself. There are no limits to any of the three major categories of immigration. The admission of spouses and fiancé(e)s is so loosely administered as to be effectively unlimited. The number of asylum-seekers is a function of how many set foot in Britain and claim asylum. Despite this chaos, the Government has quadrupled the number of work permits — arrogantly flying in the face of public opinion.
So immigration is very high, likely to continue at least at these levels and, importantly, with no natural end. In case anyone thinks that we exaggerate, allow me to quote from one of the e-mails that the Home Office was obliged to disclose to us last week: “I’ve made this point many times before but can we please stop saying that Migrationwatch forecasts are wrong . . . their assumptions are often below the Government Actuary’s Department high migration (scenario).” Indeed, David Blunkett admitted on Newsnight, that he saw “no obvious upper limit to legal migration”.
The Government’s economic case for immigration on this scale does not withstand scrutiny, as the public instinctively recognises. That, no doubt, is why successive polls indicate that 80 per cent, including 52 per cent from ethnic minority communities, want to see much tougher immigration controls. A poll conducted for the Commission for Racial Equality two years ago found that 46 per cent of people from ethnic minorities thought that there were too many immigrants in Britain. Everyone can see that the character of our society, and especially our cities, is being radically altered. In the past decade, half a million Londoners left for other parts of the UK to be replaced by the same number of immigrants; 57 per cent of respondents to our MORI poll felt that we are losing our culture, and there was widespread resentment that nobody has consulted them.
The Government’s policy has been described as “talk tough and let them all in”. They will deny it of course but, as politicians, they cannot be oblivious of the fact that immigrants vote overwhelmingly Labour. They will deny this, of course, but they must know that, in 1997, 83 per cent of black and Asian votes went to Labour. That is fine for Labour until they are rumbled by their own working-class voters; this is now happening as they turn increasingly to the British National Party (BNP). As for the Conservatives, they have yet to convince the public that they have the policies and, above all, the political will to tackle the issue.
It is not for nothing that the BNP received 800,000 votes in the recent elections and the UK Independence Party — which also has a strong policy on immigration — did remarkably well. Unless the major parties get a grip on this problem and do so soon, the extremists of the BNP will make hay and the tranquillity of our society will be placed at serious risk. The time for decisive action has arrived.
Sir Andrew Green is a former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Syria.
© Copyright of Sir Andrew Green
The Times, London, 28 August, 2004