The Government has failed to ‘get control’ of the issue of immigration, ministers admitted today.
Phill Woolas, the Immigration Minister, said he was not surprised by findings of a poll which showed that nearly eight out of ten people believe all unemployed foreign migrants should be asked to leave the UK.
Mr Woolas said the the British people would never be comfortable with immigration until they believe ministers have a firm grip on the nation’s borders.
Mr Woolas said: ‘The poll figures are not a surprise. They are a concern, and in significant part they are because the public don’t believe that the government has got control.’
He added: ‘The central goal of my immigration policy is to provide the assurance to the public that we know who’s here and who’s not here.’
The minister claimed opposition to foreign workers was ‘based on the belief that the immigrant has no legitimate right to be here,’ adding: ‘We will only get a country that is comfortable with immigration when we can show the Government has it under control.’
Mr Woolas’s admission highlights the Labour Government’s defensiveness over immigration–following years of increasingly tough rhetoric and repeated efforts to tighten controls.
More than half of those surveyed in the poll for the Financial Times opposed giving other EU citizens the right to live and work in Britain–one of the cornerstone principles of the European Union.
It questioned thousands of people across the UK, Europe and the United States regarding immigration and the economy.
Among the British public it highlights widespread ill-feeling towards foreign workers at a time when unemployment is nearing the two million mark.
In the UK a huge majority–78 per cent–believed immigrants should be asked to leave the country if they do not have a job, with only 14 per cent disagreeing and eight per cent undecided.
A similar number held the same view in Italy along with sizeable majorities in Spain, Germany and the U.S. and around half of those questioned in France.
Just over half of British adults opposed the right of all EU citizens to settle and work in Britain.
A narrow majority of Germans agreed, while there was slightly more support for the right of free movement and access to Labour markets among French, Italians and Spaniards.
An estimated one million foreign workers flocked to the UK after eight eastern European states joined the union in 2004.
Most other member states exercised a treaty right to bar eastern Europeans from their own job markets, but Britain allowed a free-for-all and the huge numbers arriving massively exceeded the Government’s expectations.
Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green said: ‘What this poll represents is the combination of that policy failure with the obvious pressures on the job market because of the recession.’
Phil Woolas suffered a further setback yesterday when watchdogs rejected his criticism of the Office for National Statistics over its release of immigrant population figures last month.
The ONS brought forward the published of the startling figures–showing that one in nine UK residents was born overseas–because of officials judged that the material was topical and important to the immigration debate.
But Phil Woolas, who faced embarrassment over the figures, unleashed a ferocious attack on the independent statisticians accusing them of straying into ‘the most inflamed debate in British politics’ and claiming the release was ‘at best naive, or, at worst, sinister.’
Today the UK Statistics Authority gave its strong backing to the ONS, concluding that the publication was ‘consistent’ with the rules and the timing was ‘influenced by the level of public interest in the topic.’
The ONS’s press release was ‘factually accurate’ and ‘neutral and impartial’ in tone, the watchdog added, whereas failing to publish the figures could have led to a misinformed debate based on flawed figures–although it said the ONS should have made a formal announcement explaining why it was bringing the publication forward, and included more supporting information.
Graphs are from the Financial Times. Click here to view the enlargement.