It is the easiest thing in the world to say who should come to Britain and why. But if there are people who should be coming here, then surely there are others who should not? It is through our unwillingness to address the second part of this question that our problems arise.
All polls show a majority of the British public want immigration reduced. But our politicians do not know what to do about it. One answer is to be honest. The Canadian and Australian ‘points-based systems’ we often hear about these days is just cover-speak for ‘who we want to let in’.
So let’s have that discussion. There are those, like Vince Cable, who like to pretend that immigrants consist solely of technology entrepreneurs. In reality almost nobody is opposed to letting in highly skilled workers, especially from first-world countries. They benefit us and cause little to no societal trouble.
Mass immigration from second-world countries (Eastern Europe) is more of a mixed bag. There is an argument that these immigrants do the jobs ‘we’ don’t want to do. But to support this you have to see no problem in importing people to do jobs so that our domestic working class don’t have to work. And financial benefits? Most studies show the real-term economic benefits of such immigration to be negligible.
Then there is the ‘third world’. This is the part of the debate we ought to be thinking about most. But our fear of racism means it is the issue we now talk about least. Yet the countries from which mass immigration has caused real trouble are all third-world countries: Bangladesh, Pakistan, Somalia and Jamaica, for instance. (Cue the obvious but necessary disclaimer — no this doesn’t mean every person from these countries is a problem.) Does anyone doubt that? Very few in private. But in public blindness remains our default which, apart from anything else, suggests we’re not very good at learning from recent history.
Today it is almost impossible to find anyone, even of the left, who thinks that transplanting whole Kashmiri villages to the North of England in the 1960s was a good idea. Brought in to do low-paid, low-skilled jobs which then disappeared, their children don’t even have their parents’ opportunities. Stuck in areas with few prospects, the religion their parents often sought to escape becomes — predictably enough — the dominating factor in their lives. Did anybody in favour of immigration factor that in during the 1960s? No. Does anybody factor in the multi-generational issues mass migration raises today? No. Experts discuss immigration solely as a fiscal issue. But it isn’t. It is also a societal one and a moral one. Nobody doubts most Somalis are better off here, but are our lives better for having them here? What are the metrics for where the negatives outweigh the benefits? Are there any?
We pretend that Somalis from one of the most dangerous and lawless countries on the planet become secular democrats once they are in Acton. And we like to say that the vast influx of families from the Indian subcontinent simply make East London more ‘diverse’. Sure. But it has also brought Bangladesh-style political corruption and Pakistan’s religious wars to areas such as Tower Hamlets.
Finally, wrapped up in all of this, are genuine asylum seekers. These are the people who get a double dose of bad luck. Though they constitute the tiniest percentage of immigrants to the UK, the advocates and apologists for mass immigration continuously use them as examples. In doing so they make a terrible mistake. Very few people who want stricter border controls object to genuine asylum seekers being given sanctuary in this country. Though we may have to accept that we can’t welcome every gay in Africa or every religious minority in the Middle East, and that countries near to or bordering the conflict zones are the best places for refugees to go. But when the mass economic migration of recent decades is melded together with asylum, the well of public tolerance for genuine asylum seekers is poisoned. One reason France may take in twice as many asylum seekers as the UK each year is that France takes in less than a quarter of the net economic migrants each year that we do.
Only two things really matter on immigration: who you take in, and in what numbers. We refuse to discuss the former and our governments botch the latter. In the years after 1681 Britain took in roughly 50,000 Huguenots — an extraordinary occurrence. But that is equal to a normal six weeks of immigration in 21st-century Britain. Perhaps this will all turn out beautifully. Perhaps everyone will integrate every six weeks as well as those French Protestants did over centuries. Or perhaps they won’t. But what a gamble to take with a country.