Anthony Browne

Some truths about immigration

Anthony Browne says Britain is already overcrowded, and that pro-immigration arguments are almost all flawed

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Something strange is happening when a left-wing government publicly accuses the BBC, riddled with institutionalised political correctness, of – can you think of a more wounding insult? – a 'Powellite anti-immigration agenda'. The Pope publicly denouncing one of his cardinals as a Satanist would hardly be more surprising. It is not just cats of the postwar fractured Left scratching each other's eyes out; David Blunkett's intemperate outburst was in reality an admission that he is losing the most important political argument of the day. It is not only that Britain doesn't want mass immigration but that, despite the government's attempts to persuade us that we need it, even parts of the BBC are finally waking up to see that there are real problems.

The fact that the BBC found the courage to reflect the concerns of its licence-fee payers is a clear sign that the tide has turned in the immigration debate. The presenter of the programme, John Ware, declared in the Daily Mail that the BBC could no longer 'sew up its lips' on the issue, and that anyone with an 'open mind' has to face up to it.

Unfortunately for the government, more and more people on both the Left and the Right are becoming open-minded on the problems of the government's policy of actively encouraging mass immigration. The pro-immigrationists' trusty tactic of suppressing all inconvenient truth and debate by denouncing all critics as racist, fascist or xenophobic just isn't working: there are too many intellectually honest people who can see that baseless insults aren't answers to real problems.

The subject of immigration has been taboo in Britain since Enoch Powell's infamous speech a third of a century ago: there has not, until a few months ago, been one debate in Parliament about the optimal types and scale of immigration, only debates on the minutiae of immigration laws. Everyone agreed to that silence so as to promote good community relations. But the government took advantage of the taboo to overturn 30 years of policy which aimed for zero primary immigration, claiming that it wants about 150,000 immigrants a year.

Labour, in its self-righteous arrogance, performed this remarkable U-turn confident that no one would break the taboo. When I started writing in the Times about the economic and demographic consequences of mass immigration, Blunkett denounced me by name in Parliament as 'bordering on fascism'. I was contacted by Sir Andrew Green, the former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who had just set up a lobby-group, Migration Watch UK, to curb immigration, and wrote a profile of his new group. Ever since, Blunkett has been denouncing it as 'right-wing' and 'tin-pot', despite the fact that its advisory council consists of former ambassadors, former heads of the government's immigration service, several professors, a Sri Lankan law lecturer and a Sudanese businessman.

The trouble for the government is that while promoting mass immigration might make people feel cosmopolitan and modern, and calling critics racist may make people feel virtuous, few of the consequences of mass immigration have been thought through. The long immigration silence has meant that all negative consequences of migration have been suppressed, and only the positive aspects talked about. If you blind yourself to all negative consequences of a complex policy, you are bound to conclude that it is a thoroughly good thing and want as much of it as possible. Civil servants sat with ministers discussing all the good things about immigration without anyone daring to think any of the bad things, and they concluded that the borders should be pushed wide open.

This state of 'immigration denial' has led the government to develop an ostrich attitude to many of the damaging consequences of its open-border policy, where it – and the left-wing media normally including the BBC – are psychologically almost incapable of being intellectually honest. It was only after the continued, hysterical screaming of most of the tabloid media that the government and other pro-immigrationists conceded there might be a problem with widespread abuse of the asylum system.

Likewise, the government refused to accept that mass immigration from disease-prone countries brings in diseases until a piece I wrote for this magazine caused a storm of protest (and the usual smearing), and the government was provoked into reviewing the need for immigrant health tests. But there are many other issues that the government still refuses to face up to:

1. Mass immigration hugely exacerbates the housing crisis. When Migration Watch produced a report last week saying that levels of immigration would require 1.8 million extra homes by 2021, the government threw insults, said the figures were plucked out of thin air and refused to produce its own forecasts. In fact, Migration Watch simply used the government's own housing methodology, and the Housebuilders' Federation says immigration is a leading driver in the demand for new housing. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, responsible for housing, is taking away the rights of communities to refuse to have housing imposed on them, and yet refuses to admit that there is any connection between immigration and housing demand. The amount of housing needed is so vast that it will be impossible for the government to build its way out of this crisis. Like importing an HIV epidemic from Africa, this is an issue that won't go away.

2. Britain is already overcrowded: it is one of the most densely populated islands in the world; twice as densely populated as France and eight times as densely populated as America – and increasing population density damages quality of life. Already, we can't find space for new airports, roads, prisons and asylum centres. It is not just millions of new houses, but the new infrastructure of roads, hospitals, schools, water supplies and other utilities. Our public transport system is ridiculously overstretched and roads are excessively congested. The government has embarked on a programme of population growth through immigration that will push the population up from 60 million to 66 million by 2031 but it refuses even to talk about the consequences of this.

3. Mass immigration – as opposed to limited immigration of skilled workers to meet shortages – damages the employment prospects of those already here, particularly the unskilled. The Home Office commissioned an economic study on the impact of immigration, which found that 'an increase in immigration amounting to 1 per cent of the non-immigrant population would lead to an increase of 0.18 percentage points in the non-immigrant unemployment rate'. However, in an extraordinary act of politically correct immigration denial, the immigration minister Beverley Hughes issued a press release saying, 'The research shows that it is simply not true that migrants "take the jobs" of the existing work force.' However, London, where most immigrants come, has become the unemployment black spot of Britain, with 7 per cent joblessness, higher than any region of the UK. There is such a large pool of cheap labour that, for the first time ever, national chains such as McDonald's and Burger King are no longer paying their highest rates in central London. Shop shelf-fillers now earn 10 per cent less in London than the average for the rest of the country. The world's leading expert on the economics of migration, Professor George Borjas of Harvard University, complains that everyone is happy to accept that increasing labour supply reduces wages in all circumstances except when it comes to immigration, when they enter denial.

4. Imposing mass immigration on a society that doesn't want it damages relations between the communities that are already here. If people are opposed to the immigration policy, they are likely to be opposed to the people it brings in and will o ften confuse immigrants with those born here. The old wisdom that a firm but fair immigration policy is essential for good race relations has been forgotten by the government. Refusing to address legitimate concerns forces voters into the hands of extremist parties such as the British National party.

5. Mass immigration increases inequality in society by increasing the wealth of those who employ immigrants (who tend already to be rich) and reducing that of those who compete with them (who tend to be poor). The US government has estimated that half the rise in income inequality in the US is due to mass immigration.

6. Mass immigration is no solution to an ageing society, because immigrants grow old at just the same pace as non-immigrants. One of the country's top pension experts, Professor David Miles, said that trying to solve the pension crisis by importing more people is 'madness'.

7. Mass migration of unskilled workers promotes low-skilled, low-wage industries and reduces economic productivity. Alan Greenspan told the Senate earlier this year that labour shortages in the US in the last century, when immigration was very low, forced companies to innovate and was the main reason why productivity in the US overtook that of Europe. Importing unskilled labour did nothing to save the textile mills of the north of England, and this disastrous policy has left behind impoverished, bitterly divided communities.

8. Much if not most of the supposedly temporary migration – such as student visas, holiday working visas and seasonal agricultural workers – is permanent because the dream of life in the West is so powerful for so many from the poor parts of the world. The government has no controls to ensure that those it invites in actually leave.

9. White flight is ghettoising Britain's cities and fragmenting communities. A totally unpublicised report commissioned by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister last year found that white flight was now a leading cause of internal migration in the UK. In London as a whole, white Britons account for just 60 per cent of the population, and for fewer than half the population in six London boroughs. Mass immigration from the Third World to the cities exacerbates white flight, but the government refuses to face up to the consequences. Professor Robert Putnam, author of the celebrated Bowling Alone, which is about the decline of community spirit in the US, has found that the more ethnically diverse a population, the less sense of community there is.

The government may not face up to these issues, but an increasing number of people are doing so. Bob Rowthorn, the left-wing professor of economics at Cambridge, dismisses all the economic arguments and opposes mass immigration on the grounds that all people have a right to decide their culture; Geoff Dench of the left-wing Institute of Community Studies in London's East End opposes mass immigration because of the welfare loss to the white working class, and because it is so damaging to race relations; Professor Lord Layard, the designer of Labour's welfare-to-work programme, has warned of the damaging impact on the unskilled; Ruth Lea, the head of policy at the Institute of Directors, has called on government to reduce immigration – she insists businesses must look beyond the short-term profits of cheap labour, and look at the long-term social and economic consequences.

As the taboo about immigration is broken, more people are becoming more open-minded about it. The government will eventually be forced to face reality and to curb its addiction to mass immigration. It is just a question of how much pain it puts the country through – and how much it sacrifices the working classes and race relations – before it does so.

Anthony Browne is environment editor of the Times.