Posted on April 18, 2007

Immigration Has Unsettled The Country, Says Minister

This Is London, April 17, 2007

Labour’s immigration minister Liam Byrne has urged for tougher action to crack down on immigration crime

Mass immigration into Britain in recent years has left the country “deeply unsettled”, Labour’s immigration minister has admitted.

Writing in a think tank report Liam Byrne openly acknowledged that the pace of immigration was causing problems for some public services in the UK and said “laissez-faire immigration” risked damaging communities.

He urged tougher action to crack down on immigration crime, and concluded: “It’s not racist for Labour to debate immigration; it’s the real worldthe world in which the people we represent live in [sic].”

Tory critics welcomed what they called Mr Byrne’s “belated recognition” of concerns over the scale of immigration, but accused him of empty rhetoric without action.

Liam Byrne took over as Home Office immigration minister last May at the height of the foreign prisoners fiasco, which cost former Home Secretary Charles Clarke his job.

Since then Mr Byrne has faced derision over a string of policy initiatives, including sending illegal immigrants text messages urging them to go home, while John Reid has condemned the Home Office’s Immigration and Nationality Directorate which enforces immigration policy as “not fit for purpose”.

Mr Byrne’s latest comments came in an essay published as part of an immigration pamphlet yesterday by the left-of-centre think tank the Policy Network.

Mr Byrne acknowledged that mounting public concern over immigration could not be blamed on media scaremongering, and highlighted the “political risks” facing governments which fail to tackle such concerns, citing governments in Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands which “lost power in elections where immigration was a serious issue.”

He wrote: “We live in a world where migrants move faster than ministers, and the public services in some communities can find it difficult to change as quickly as their communities are changing.”

Some local authorities and schools were struggling to cope with the influx of immigrants, he said, noting that at one junior school in his own Birmingham constituency the proportion of children with English as a second language rise from five per cent to 20 per cent in just one year.

In such circumstances, he said: “Boosting standards in some of our poorest communities gets harder.”

On immigration crime, he said, it was “not populist to argue for a tough enforcement of our immigration lawsit is progressive”, and claimed that a “much bigger detention estate” would make it possible to lock up more offenders.

Mr Byrne called for a “more open debate about what immigration is good for Britain that takes into account its wider impact.”

Opposition critics were left unimpressed by such robust rhetoric.

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: “We are glad the minister has belatedly recognised our concerns but tough rhetoric is no answer whatsoever.

“People are sick of Labour talking tough but acting dumb. Conservatives would talk sensibly and act robustly.”

Record levels of immigration have seen the UK’s immigrant population grow by around 1.5million since Labour came to power in 1997.

The decision to allow eastern European workers free access to work in the UK when the EU expanded in 2004 led to a massive influx of more than 600,000 people, making a mockery of the Government’s prediction of just 13,000 a year.

Last month ministers announced that they are finally to investigate the huge impact immigration is having on schools, hospitals and “social cohesion” in the UK.

Now ministers are promising to curb the number of low-skilled workers allowed to enter the UK each year from outside the EU.

Tougher border controls are also being promised, with exit checks reintroduced for all passengersbut not until 2014 at the earliest.

[Editor’s Note: Read about “Rethinking Immigration and Integration: a New Centre-Left Agenda” here.

[It will be made available for free download here soon.]