SO Beverley Hughes has finally gone. But the problem is not a particular
minister. The problem is a Government policy which has simply fallen apart.
Her departure is symbolic of the public’s total loss of confidence on a subject of real importance to every person in the land.
Beverley Hughes was doing her best to bring some kind of order into the shambles which the Tories left behind and which her Labour predecessors turned into chaos. But, in the end, she was defending the indefensible and had to go.
The reality is that this Government has blundered into massive levels of
immigration while allowing our border controls to crumble. They have
done so with no explanation and no debate.
The public has discovered that there is no recording of
foreigners as they come and go from Britain. They realise that nine out of ten asylum seekers manage to remain in Britain, the majority illegally.
And they know that there is a stream of illegal immigrants
arriving on the back of trucks. Absurdly, instead of being arrested and sent home, they are sent off to Croydon to claim asylum.
David Blunkett has made a few hesitant steps towards getting some order into this situation and has shown some courage in doing so. But he has made a fatal error by instigating a massive expansion of legal immigration before regaining control of our borders.
Thus he has trebled the number of work permits to 145,000 this year, while widened several other side doors to Britain.
All this has stimulated still further pressure on the immigration system. As the recent Home Office whistleblower, Stephen Moxon, revealed recently officials have been simply waving applicants through in order to reduce the apparent backlog.
These weaker checks encourage further applications as our brave Consul in Bucharest,
James Cameron, has detailed. And so the system goes into meltdown. We are very close to losing control entirely.
And what on earth is the point of it all? Why do we want immigration on anything like the
In 2002 net foreign immigration was very nearly a quarter of a million. How can we integrate people on such a scale? And what for?
These questions are certainly not confined to the right wing press. They have long been privately on many people’s lips. The revelations, in recent weeks, about the meltdown in the immigration system have simply brought the subject into the open - and not before time.
It is highly revealing that, at his Press conference yesterday, the Prime Minister was unable to say what level of immigration he wished to see. He seemed to believe that the public was concerned about only fraud and deception. Clearly, he is badly out of touch.
He was, perhaps, echoing David Blunkett, who remarked last November that he saw 'no obvious upper limit to legal migration'. People may not know the details but they have plenty of common sense. Nothing is more obvious to them than the fact that there must be a limit. Even on the Government's own projections there will be an increase in our population of 5.6 million in the next 30 years of which 85 per cent, yes 85 per cent, will be due to new immigration.
The effect on our infrastructure and on our public services will be enormous. Housing is the most obvious example. We will need at least an extra 4.5 million homes by 2021. One in four will be required for immigrants.
Ironically, the Government claims to be stimulating the highest levels of immigration in our history for economic reasons. Yet there is no economic case. There is no major study which shows any significant benefit to the host nation from large scale immigration.
Obviously, it benefits the immigrants. That is why they come. And it adds to the total size of our economy. But in terms of wealth per head, any benefit is tiny.
The Government claims we need more immigration to proved skilled workers for our economy. Yet this is the Government whose slogan was Education, Education and Education. How is it that, seven years on, we are told that there are widespread skill shortages?
The Government also claims that we need unskilled workers 'to do the jobs that the British will not do'. Really? How is it, then, that in large parts of the country where immigrants do not settle these jobs are getting done? And do they really suggest that we should import a new underclass to do these less welcome jobs?
Do they think that the second generation will settle for such a prospect? Or are they, perhaps, expecting to import a continuing flow of low skilled and often exploited immigrants to refill
It makes no sense at all. Nor does the Home Secretary's claim that there are 500,000 vacancies bear a moment's examination. We have at least seven British people available for every vacancy.
The real issue is the balance between benefits and low wages. For
many people it is hardly worth working. This has very little to do with
These are the basic economics which must inform any serious debate about future levels of immigration. They should not, for a moment, detract from the contribution which existing immigrants are making, and have made, to our economy and our society. They do, indeed, enrich our society. That is not the issue. The issue is one of scale or rather future scale, of immigration. This raises even wider issues.
There is widespread concern about the cohesion of our society and the loss of our culture. So far we have been reasonably successful in integrating newcomers into our society. Nobody wants that to be put under intolerable strain.
That may well be why there is a very strong desire, about 80 per
cent in successive opinion polls, for much tighter immigration controls.
The Government calls for a debate and then labels its opponents 'Right- wing' or 'anti-immigrant', or worse.
They can no longer get away with that. The public want to know what is really going on - and, above all, why?
Sir Andrew Green is a former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Syria.
© Copyright of Sir Andrew Green
The Daily Mail, London, April 2, 2004