We are at a watershed. Political correctness has finally collided with practical reality. We have been forced by events to rethink the consequences of the massive levels of immigration that have developed in the past five years. And yet the immediate result is a damp squib: the Government's panic measures, announced yesterday, to deter an inflow of immigrants from Eastern Europe will have little effect.
The Government cannot have failed to note the extraordinary events in Holland. Public opinion in one of the most liberal countries of Europe has done a somersault in just two or three years. Now, of all countries, Holland is expelling failed asylum seekers by the thousand.
The British Government already has reason to be nervous. There is a strong feeling here that we are losing our culture, and successive polls show that 80 per cent of the public want to see much tougher immigration controls including, importantly, 52 per cent of the ethnic minority communities.
The Government's response is to claim that it has a policy of "managed migration". Hardly. The asylum process, which costs us nearly £2 billion a year, leaves nearly 90 per cent of applicants remaining in Britain – the majority of them illegally. Meanwhile, 1.5 million visas are issued every year, yet no one is checked in or out. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has admitted on television that he "hasn't a clue" who is in this country.
Eastern Europe illustrates the point. In 2002, some 800,000 nationals of the accession states arrived in the UK. Some will have been the same people on multiple journeys and many will have returned home. But nobody has any idea how many stayed on illegally, although a visit to any building site will provide some clues. What is known is that, over the past three years, a total of 50,000 travellers from the candidate states have been turned back at our ports. It is a fair guess, therefore, that considerable numbers have friends or relatives here who know the ropes, which is always one of the greatest pull factors for new immigrants.
Despite this, the Home Office has been predicting that the number of people of migrating from Eastern Europe will be between 5,000 and 13,000 a year from a total population of 73 million. This estimate must be absurdly low. Indeed, the Home Secretary took care yesterday to distance himself from it.
As all the other countries of the European Union, except Ireland, have imposed restrictions on East Europeans, the spotlight has fallen on the regime in Britain. For a start, we have no system of ID cards so that, once in, disappearing is simple. Nor do we have any control over our labour market. Employers can and do employ illegal labour on a large scale and with impunity. Last year, there was only one successful prosecution. So the work permit system is a broken reed. And the new requirement for East Europeans to register is unenforceable. The Government is left with an attempt to deter those who might be coming mainly to seek benefits. This will be no easy task since, once they have arrived, they can declare themselves destitute and, if they have children, the local authorities are obliged by law to look after them.
This is the Government's nightmare. And it comes at a time when people are beginning to realise the sheer scale of what is happening to our society. In 2002, the number of foreigners arriving in Britain exceeded those who left by 245,000. The impact was concentrated mainly on London, where 75 per cent of migrants settle. According to a recent report by the Number 10 Strategy Unit, the number of migrants arriving in London has doubled over the past 10 years to 200,000 a year, while the number of Londoners leaving for other parts of the UK has increased steadily to 230,000 a year. This is a massive change in the whole nature of our capital city about which few have been informed and none has been consulted.
The impact on public services will be immediately apparent to anyone who visits an inner-city school or hospital. The impact on transport is quite startling. According to the same Number 10 report, the number of commuters in London is expected to grow by 10-20 per cent in the next seven years. Where on earth are the extra trains and roads to come from in that time scale?
The wider question, to which the Government appears to have no answer, is how many people do we want to have on this small, crowded island. Mr Blunkett declares that he can see no obvious upper limit to legal immigration. Most people see it rather differently. They believe that it is obvious that there must be an upper limit.
The Government's own projections, based on immigration of only 103,000 a year, point to an increase in our population over the next three decades of 5.6 million, of which the majority is due to immigration. In fact, immigration has been running for the past five years at 150,000 a year. This would result in a population increase of seven million by 2031, equivalent to seven times the population of Birmingham. This would require, for a start, an extra one million homes by 2021. Where are we going to put them? Increasingly, people are asking whether all this can possibly make sense.
The Government responds with spin. It constantly repeats that, with a declining and ageing population, we need immigration to provide skilled and unskilled immigrants to build our
economy - immigrants who contribute more to the public purse than they cost. None of these propositions is true.
One can only conclude that the Government's immigration policy is a house of cards, founded on falsehoods, which is at serious risk of tumbling down. Michael Howard has at last dipped his toe, cautiously and sensibly, into these waters. If the Opposition were to come forward with a set of policies that restored control of our borders and set a sensible limit to the further expansion of our population, they would be shooting at a wide-open goal.
© Copyright of Sir Andrew Green