The Great Deception Saturday Essay by Sir Andrew Green, Chairman, Migration Watch UK Daily Mail, London, 21 April 2007
For many years now, the Government and the liberal Left’s case for mass immigration has rested partly on their repeated assertion that Britain is a melting pot of different cultures - or as they describe it, "a nation of immigrants". Our history, we have been told, has been punctuated by regular waves of substantial numbers of immigrants to our shores; from the Romans to the Normans, from the Huguenots of the 16th and 17th centuries to the Jews of the 19th and 20th, in-comers have settled here over the centuries and have influenced the racial and cultural make-up of this country for the better.
The slogan was first promoted in Britain in 2001 by the then immigration minister Barbara Roche, who pronounced that ‘"the UK is a nation of immigrants."
This absurd claim will finally bite the dust with the publication today of an important new book - A Nation of Immigrants? by Professor David Conway, senior research fellow for the political think-tank Civitas.
Of course we have immigrants in Britain, nowadays in substantial numbers: yesterday, official figures from the Office of National Statistics revealed how immigration has swollen Britain’s population by nearly 1.5 million just in the decade since 1995.
And, of course, many of them have made, and continue to make, a considerable contribution to our life as a nation. The list of distinguished people is a long one and our country would be different and, very possibly, less vigorous without them.
But that is entirely different from suggesting that we are, by nature, a nation of immigrants - with the implication that present levels of immigration are merely a continuation of past trends, a continuation of the process that has made us what we are.
Any such claim falls apart when examined closely, as Professor Conway has demonstrated. He looked at the scale of previous waves of immigration and found that they were far smaller than the massive inflows which we are now facing.
A certain amount depends on how far back you go in time. Britain has been an island for some 8,000 years - before that, it was connected to mainland Europe.
The earliest population were hunter-gatherers running only to a few thousand. A big increase in population, some 6,000 years ago, seems to have been due to the arrival of new techniques of farming and a consequent boost to food production, rather than to a large inflow of people.
By the time of the Roman invasion, the inhabitants numbered some 1.5 million. The Anglo-Saxons and Danes of the Dark Ages were the most significant subsequent arrivals - yet their numbers were never overwhelming and the population remained roughly at 1.5 million until the Norman Conquest.
For practical purposes, the arrival of the Normans in 1066 is the sensible place to start an assessment of the impact of immigration on our society. To go back further is to get lost in the mists of time.
And when you look at the record of the past 1,000 years, the actual number of people who arrived in Britain from elsewhere is extremely small – even when you take into account the much lower populations of earlier times. Furthermore, in almost every case, their arrival was spread over decades rather than years.
William the Conqueror arrived with only around 10,000 troops of largely French extraction. The total number of Norman settlers in Britain was never more than 5 per cent of the population, but they seized the levers of power and grabbed a third of the land in short order.
In the subsequent 1,000 years, there have been only two numerically significant migrations into Britain - the Huguenots in the 16th and 17th centuries and the Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries. Professor Conway’s work reveals that both were surprisingly limited in scale.
The Huguenots were Protestants driven out of Catholic France by religious persecution. The first wave came in the second half of the 16th century and larger wave followed in the late 17th century.
The total number settling in Britain has been estimated at 40,000 - still only 1 per cent of the population at the time. Many brought valuable skills, some were affluent and their impact was generally beneficial - but they were still a tiny number.
It was another 200 years before the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 triggered pogroms in Russia and Poland. Between 1880 and 1914, it is estimated that some three million Jews left Eastern Europe and Russia.
The majority went to the US, while some 150,000 settled in Britain, arriving at the rate of perhaps 10,000 a year.
They were followed in the period between the two World Wars by perhaps 70,000 others fleeing Nazi Germany. It hardly needs to be said that they have made an outstanding contribution to our society.
But again the numbers are tiny. Taken together, they amounted to roughly half a per cent of our population at the time, spread over half a century.
Professor Conway also looked at the Irish migration of the 19th century. This is a quite different case, since as Ireland was part of Great Britain, in full political union with England, Scotland and Wales at the time, but the numbers are interesting.
Irish-born adults living in Britain doubled from 300,000 to 600,000 in the 20 years around the potato famine of the mid-19th century - again, some 1 per cent of Britain’s population at the time, spread over decades. Even by 1880, the Irish community in Britain was only 3 per cent of the population.
The claim that Britain is a nation of immigrants is even more bizarre when you consider that, between 1815 and 1914, Britain quadrupled her population and yet still dispatched more than 20 million people to destinations beyond Europe.
The reality is that we have historically been a country of emigration, not immigration. Indeed, that situation persisted up to the mid-1980s, when immigration first exceeded emigration.
Why all this focus on numbers? First, because they disprove the Government’s claim, so one more falsehood on immigration collapses on examination. Second, because numbers do matter. And the larger they are, the more they matter. And third, because, although it may not be politically correct to say so, culture matters too.
The Huguenots and the Jews were both of European, Judeo Christian culture and so more easily integrated into our society. We are now taking large numbers from cultures very distant from our own and from each other.
Unlike the US - which is, indeed, a nation of immigrants - we have no mechanisms for absorbing such a mix (sic) of people.
The concept of ‘multiculturalism’; allowing different groups of immigrants to pursue their own cultural agenda without regard to the indigenous population, was an attempt to avoid the issue. Its disastrous failure was demonstrated on 7/7 in the London tube bombings carried out by men brought up in Britain.
Consider the present position. In the two years 2004 and 2005, foreign immigration totalled about 630,000 or just over 1 per cent of our record population of 60 million.
The only two previous significant waves of foreign immigration in the past 1,000 years - the Huguenots and Jews - each amounted to less than 1 per cent spread over up to 50 years. So the inflow now is some 25 times any previous level of immigration.
Such numbers are, of course, having a huge impact on our society. The growth of our minority ethnic communities illustrates the point. By no means all of them are immigrants since about half were born and brought up here and are as British as anyone else.
But their parents and grandparents were immigrants, so their numbers are some measure of the impact of the immigration on our society over the past half-century. In 1951 ethnic minorities were 1 per cent of our population. They are now 8 per cent. And in state secondary schools they number 17 per cent.
To these, of course, should be added immigrants who are not part of the black and minority ethnic communities - notably, in recent years, the Poles.
Meanwhile, in Greater London one child in two is born to a foreign mother and, in several of our cities, the indigenous community will find themselves a minority before very long.
Small wonder that there is widespread public concern, that two-thirds of us feel that our culture is under threat, and that 83 per cent want firm action from the Government.
Why is it, then, that the Government is deliberately perpetuating the ridiculous myth that we are "a nation of immigrants"? Its track record should tell us the answer: if you can’t solve a problem, spin it.
What has happened - quite simply, indeed undeniably - is that the Government has lost control of our borders. Ministers have no idea who
has come, who has gone and who is still here. They were far too slow to tackle the asylum mess which they inherited from the Conservatives.
Then they deliberately and, in my view, crazily made a massive increase in work permits followed by an appalling miscalculation over the likely inflows from Eastern Europe.
So, prevented by political correctness from addressing the root of the problem - which is the scale of immigration - they reached for the spin.
We were repeatedly told that none of this mattered because we are a nation of immigrants anyway - a nation that has successfully absorbed immigration down the centuries. That line has been shot to pieces by Professor Conway.
The Government is now left with its second defence - that all this immigration is beneficial, even necessary, for our economy. Two thirds of the public do not believe this, but the Government continues to repeat it. The public are, of course, right.
Nearly all the benefit of immigration goes to the immigrants themselves - which, naturally, is why they come.
The Government claims that the entire country benefits from the growth in our economy as a result of immigration, but calculations based on its own figures show that the value of this growth to each member of the indigenous community comes to less than 50p a week.
Not a lot, you may think, when you consider the added cost to the economy caused by current levels of immigration - cost in the form of the extra pressure on our public services and our infrastructure.
Indeed, the latest figures issued by the Government itself show that we shall need to build 200 houses a day, every day, for the next 20 years just to house new immigrants - not existing immigrants, but new ones. This takes no account of the illegal immigrants who must number at least half a million.
Fortunately, the public are waking up to the situation. The chattering classes are still not too bothered. They like the cheap nannies, cheaper restaurants and lower inflation that the lower wages of immigrants bring.
But for the working class that means less money and less job security. They are not amused. I ndeed, the white working class who are the most directly affected by mass immigration are beginning to desert Labour in droves.
This may be why the Government is at last taking action. Liam Byrne, Barbara Roche’s successor as Minister for Immigration, admitted this week that the country is "deeply unsettled" by the present massive levels of immigration.
Only last month, and just in time for the local elections, the Home Office issued two documents setting out how it intends to restore control of our borders, with better records of arrivals and departures, new visa controls, ID cards for resident foreigners and new measures against employers of illegal workers.
This is all sensible stuff and long overdue - but whether the Home Office have staff of sufficient quality and the resources necessary to achieve their aims remains to be seen.
The truth is that we cannot continue as we are. Migrants are now arriving at very nearly one every minute. We cannot possibly integrate
people into our society at such a pace, and we should not be expected to do so. Political correctness must be put aside.
There must be a sharp reduction in immigration. The public must be reassured by clear evidence that the situation is no longer spinning out of control.
The best objective would be to reduce foreign immigration to the same level as the number of British people emigrating each year. This has doubled under the present government to about 100,000 a year.
Such a limit would allow room for those who are really essential to our economy, as well as leaving room for family reunion (under tightened rules). Genuine refugees should not, as a matter of principle, be capped. In any case, they nowadays number fewer than 10,000 a year.
Firm and effective action is now the only way forward. Spin has had its day. And Professor Conway has made a valuable contribution to its demise.
• A Nation of Immigrants? by David Conway is available from Civitas.
Sir Andrew Green is a former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Syria.
© Copyright of Sir Andrew Green