Whites will soon become a minority in Birmingham and other major British cities, posing a “critical” challenge to social stability, Britain’s race relations watchdog has warned.
Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), says “tough decisions” will have to be made as Leicester then Birmingham, Oldham and Bradford become “plural cities” where no one race holds a demographic majority.
The warning comes as government statistics show that white and ethnic minority communities are becoming increasingly segregated by growing population movement and immigration.
Phillips will highlight the issue this week at a conference in Leicester, which the CRE predicts will become a plural city by 2011, with the others crossing the threshold by 2016.
“We have some tough decisions to make, but events across Europe have shown how segregation breeds mistrust and fracture,” said Phillips. “The benefits of plural cities can be great, but we need to look at the future and act responsibly.”
The CRE points to last year’s race riots in Birmingham, the disorder in France and the Muslim cartoon protests across Europe to warn of the dangers. But Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East, said the city was a “model of integration”.
However, Manzoor Moghal, chairman of the Muslim Forum in the East Midlands, fears a backlash. “I think the indigenous white people would resent the fact they are in the minority,” he said.
Mohammed Naseem, chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque, said: “It could increase the risk of conflict and hostility. However, perhaps a more likely possibility is that with greater integration there will come better understanding and tolerance of different communities.”
There are now seven London boroughs in which whites are in a minority, up from three in 2001. Brent in northwest London has the highest proportion of non-whites, 69%.
Nigel Harris, emeritus professor at University College London, played down the risks: “We have had a wonderfully diverse society for a very long time. To collapse this into an issue about black versus white seems bizarre.”