Daniel Korski

Don’t give us your unwashed masses

Don’t give us your unwashed masses
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Downturns turn people against immigrants. That’s normal. But even according to the statistical average, Britons are particularly unhappy about the state of immigration these days. In a new survey undertaken by the German Marshall Fund, seventy-one percent of Britons polled disapproved of Labour’s immigration policy. Spaniards (64%), Americans (63%), Italians (53%) are also sceptical of government action.  In contrast, 71% of Germans, 59% of Canadians and 50% of French approved of the steps their countries had taken.

In fact, Britons are the most sceptical about immigration, with 66% seeing it as more of a problem than an opportunity – a jump of seven percentage points on 2008 figures. Concerns about immigration from EU countries – a fundamental part of the Single Market - remain high. 47% argue that there are “too many citizens” from other EU countries living in Britain.

Unsurprisingly, resistance to low-skill migration is particularly strong, with 58% of respondents voicing support for reducing the numbers admitted into the country. Also, 40 percent of those polled do not want highly skilled immigrant workers to come either. This figure would seem to undermine the government’s point-based system.

Part of the problem is that Britons overestimate immigration levels. The perception is that 27% of the British population were immigrants; the real figure is 10%. Another part is mistrust of or disagreement with government policies. A new government will have to clamp down on non-EU immigration, either through caps or a beefed-up points system. Investment is required to ensure that services are not overburdened by immigration. And immigrants have to take on the basic values and concepts that underpin British society; if not, they should not be admitted or sent home. That much should be beyond debate.

But being philosophically anti-immigration is a problem for Britain in the long-run. Immigration has been, is and will remain important to the British economy. Throughout its history, Britain has welcomed Danes, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Frisians, Franks, Jews, Lombards, Roma, Huguenots, Palatines, Africans, West Indians, Pakistanis, Indians, Chinese, Belgians, Poles and many others, making Britain the powerhouse of Europe. Skilled immigrants, in particular, have created more employment rather than take it away.

To quote David Cameron: “We should not try to unlock the potential of our own citizens by locking out the citizens of other countries. When willing, able and energetic people come to this country to work, they don't crowd out other people from the Labour market." Well said. But the new survey shows how hard it will be to craft balanced policies that the British public can believe in.