Melanie Phillips

31 March 2004

Britain's immigration debacle

Published in: Daily Mail

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The extraordinary leaked email from the British Consul in Bucharest has fanned the smouldering row over immigration policy into a full-blown conflagration.

For the issue is no longer whether it was or was not official policy to cut corners in order to tackle the immense backlog of immigration cases. What James Cameron has revealed is of a different order of magnitude. The argument over whether or not Mrs Hughes was guilty of misleading Parliament is in danger of concealing the real issue.

For what has been progressively dragged out of her is the admission that, bit by bit, normal checks were indeed being waived to allow people to come into this country regardless of the validity of their claim.

This raises a very big question. For this is a picture of something more than an administrative shambles. It is bigger even than merely trying to massage the statistics to minimise the numbers coming here after ten new states join the EU on May 1.

What Mr Cameron has revealed is that Britain is indiscriminately shoe-horning hundreds of thousands of people into this country. We have not just lost control of our borders, but have effectively thrown them wide open. How can this have happened? What on earth is going on?

The immigration system has patently been overwhelmed by the numbers applying for entry. The great question, though, is why so many are applying in the first place for work permits or visas. The astonishing answer is that this is the result of a deliberate government policy to encourage unlimited immigration - a policy whose rationale ultimately remains a mystery.

For the past two years at least, Britain has been actively encouraging applicants from abroad to come here to work. The Chancellor himself has said that we need some 150,00 immigrants every year to boost the economy.

So the government has accordingly been talking up immigration -a dramatic change in policy it has never been debated or held to account over. The department in charge of work permits has been giving firms advice about how to recruit from overseas. The result has been an explosion in applications, which in some countries have doubled in the past year.

But in fact, none of the economic arguments for such large-scale immigration stands up to scrutiny. It is said that it will improve the country's wealth. But this is not so. Of course it increases productivity, simply because the more people in a country, the more it produces.

But the true guide to the prosperity of everyone in a society is measured by gross domestic product (GDP) per head. And authoritative studies done in Canada and the US have shown that the effects of immigration on GDP per head are only marginal.

Prosperity in these countries is not due to the fact that they are immigrant societies but to their can-do mentality, increased productivity and an altogether different culture from ours. And in our vastly smaller country, we have to balance the benefits of immigration against the downside of congestion, pressure on services and difficulties in integration.

It is said that health or social services or unskilled jobs such as cleaning or labouring would collapse without immigrants. But this is also not true. Immigration is largely confined to London and the south east. In the rest of the country where immigrants are thin on the ground, these jobs get done by the indigenous British.

There are in fact some three million unemployed natives who could work. But in London and the south east, they are not doing low-paid jobs because foreign workers will do them for no more than the minimum wage or less, while the natives demand higher pay.

The result is that wages are being driven down, and indigenous people are being driven out. Over the past decade, while some 200,000 immigrants per year have been arriving in London, 230,000 per year have moved out. This transfer of population is changing the face of the capital, and creating an underclass among British people at the bottom of the heap - many of whom are ethnic minorities - who are being priced out of work.

There is certainly a need for some skilled workers. But plugging the gap with foreign workers should be strictly temporary. Rather, we have an urgent need to train our own people better.

So if the economic arguments don't stack up, what is the real reason for the switch to promoting mass immigration? The reasons remain very unclear.

One possible explanation is the pressure by employers to import foreign labour to drive down wages. But that hardly explains why our brainy Chancellor, in particular, should support such destructive and flaky reasoning.

The timing suggests rather that it may have been done to conceal the government's utter failure to deal with the abuse of asylum. When the scale of this problem first surfaced, the government argued that while measures should be taken to control asylum, immigration was good for the country and should be encouraged. Simple! Turn asylum seekers into legal immigrants by changing the rules.

This argument had two advantages. It was a way of deflecting the inevitable accusations of racism in dealing with asylum; and it also helped conceal the ongoing shambles of asylum policy. The result has been - it is now becoming ever clearer - a massive widening of that shambles.

It has also played to other agendas, such as those on the left who want to attack the basis of British national identity. The doctrine of multiculturalism has accordingly been turned into a justification for the numbers coming in - and anyone who objects is vilified as a racist.

Immigrants bring much of value to this country -but no country can sustain such huge numbers. The projected increase in population amounts to more than five new Birminghams by 2031, 85% of which will be due to immigration. Where will we build the houses to put them all? How will schools or health and social services cope?

Like Mr Moxon, Mr Cameron has been suspended. But both have performed a public service by exposing the lie at the heart of immigration policy. The lie is that migration is being managed. It is not. It is out of control.

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

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Melanie Phillips
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