The Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission today warned that Britain risks fuelling anti-immigrant sentiment unless it takes active steps to help those hit hardest by the economic crisis—including the white working class.
Trevor Phillips’ warning comes ahead of his appearance at a CBI conference on immigration today, where he will sit on a panel alongside Immigration Minister Phil Woolas.
The conference comes after suggestions that the UK population should be “capped” at 70 million. Mr Phillips will argue that such a cap is wrong and unenforceable.
He said: “After forty years in which it was impolite to speak frankly about immigration policy, we now must be able to address this fundamental aspect of economic policy without embarrassment or without fear of being labelled closet racists or open-border fantasists.
“In what is to come, the best defence against prejudice against immigrants will be to make those who resent them competitive, to give them a place in society.
“We may need to do so with the sort of special measures we’ve previously targeted at ethnic minorities. But the name of the game today is to tackle inequality, not racial special pleading.”
In an earlier interview, Mr Phillips said he wanted to see ‘positive action’ for those hardest hit in the downturn, particularly the white working class who feel threatened.
“What we are seeing is that there is a whole group of people, a large proportion of whom are white, who are going to suffer from this crisis who are going to be the people we should want to help, particularly because they come from the wrong side of town,” he said.
“We are going to have to do something special for them. We are going to have to put extra resources where young people can’t compete with migrants’ skills.
“And in some parts of the country, it is clear that what defines disadvantage won’t be black or brown, it will be white. And we will have to take positive action to help some white groups, what we might call the white underclass.”
Immigration Minister Phil Woolas also addressed today’s summit.
He promised earlier this month that the UK population would not rise as high as 70 million but denied a cap was being imposed.
Today, he said: “Let me make it very clear, the Government is not proposing to cap migration. Neither is it looking to set an upper limit on migration, but we need to recognise that the labour market might change.”
He said the new points system, which comes into effect next month, “will enable us to raise or lower the barrier”.
Labour has opposed a capping limit, unlike the Conservatives.
Mr Woolas, who became Immigration Minister in this month’s reshuffle, hit the headlines when he said: “People didn’t believe the authorities knew what they were doing and there’s a very good reason for that—they didn’t.”
The MP for Oldham East & Saddleworth received a custard pie in the face on Friday courtesy of a member of pro-migration group Manchester No Borders during a debate at the University of Manchester.
He had been due to appear on Question Time on Thursday but denied his last-minute withdrawal was because he was being “gagged”.
Mr Woolas also made controversial comments hinting at a loss of privileges for the Church of England during an interview with The Times.
During a question and answer session after his speech, Mr Phillips said Britain was not “full”.
He compared it with a half-full Wembley stadium where everyone wanted to sit behind the goal.
“We rebuilt Wembley. You don’t say you won’t let any more people in here.
“We need to be rational about it.”
Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve told the summit the new points system was “a step in the right direction”.
“However, a points based system without an upper limit is pointless. That is why we have proposed an upper annual limit on economic migration.
“Whilst we cannot restrict inward EU migration, this would allow us to control migration from outside the EU, which is around two-thirds of the foreign nationals arriving in the UK each year.”
Mr Grieve said annual net migration from outside the EU had risen 144%, from 88,000 in 1997 to 215,000 in 2006.
He said the total net migration since 1997 was two million.