Immigration and the EU Constitution
Sir Andrew Green KCMG
There is little doubt that our country faces an extremely serious problem which has crept up on us in recent years. Successive opinion polls show that it is a major, if not the major, concern of the public.
Yet there has, so far, been remarkably little discussion.
I refer, of course, to immigration.
People shy away from the subject for fear of being accused of racism.
The result is that the field has, until recently, been left wide open to extremists. Our aim, in Migrationwatch, is to turn that round:
- to generate serious debate
- to prepare viable policy proposals
- and to get these issues into the main stream of public debate so that they can be properly dealt with.
I should explain here that Migrationwatch is a largely voluntary organisation. Unlike most organisations in this field, we receive no subsidy from the Government in any form and have no intention of seeking one. We are able to rely on donations from the public and are thus completely independent.
We are by no means "anti-immigrant" as some seek to suggest. We believe that immigration and emigration on a limited scale is a natural and beneficial part of the world economy.
But, as I will explain, we also believe that immigration into Britain has now reached a scale which requires a substantial rethink.
We believe that the immigration rules should be substantially tightened - a view which is shared by 80% of the public, including 52% of the ethnic minority communities.
And we believe that a very difficult situation is about to be exacerbated by developments in Europe.
I propose, therefore, to divide this talk into two parts.
The first will look at immigration from a British perspective. I will say something about the scale and impact of present levels of immigration and I will touch on the economic arguments that have been advanced for it - arguments that are almost entirely false.
In the second part of my talk, I will look at the impact of Europe under four headings:
- the different demographics within Europe
- the implications of the recent expansion towards Eastern Europe
- co-ordination of European policy so far
- the implications of the European Union draft Constitution.
It is very important to understand the historical background.
Until the mid 1950s, virtually all immigration into Britain was, of course, from Europe.
The Government have recently sought to suggest that Britain is a nation of immigrants. The historical record makes that claim rather hard to justify.
In fact, Britain has one of the most settled populations in Europe.
The largest flow, proportionately, was the Huguenots but they were spread over a considerable period. They were also European and Protestant, thus reducing the problems of assimilation.
Nobody doubts the massive contribution of our Jewish community but their numbers were proportionately very small.
The picture started to change with new Commonwealth immigration of the order of 70,000 a year starting in the 1950s.
Much is made, rightly, of the success of the East African Asians. However, they numbered only 27,000 over a couple of years. We are now taking nine times that number every year.
It is no surprise, therefore, that race and immigration have once again become a major public issue, although one which receives surprisingly little serious attention.
The latest Yougov Poll in the Daily Telegraph put immigration and asylum as the TOP ISSUE facing the country with 56%. Crime seared 49%, Health 46%.
71% thought that Government had deliberately withheld important facts.
It is important to repeat that we are not opposed to all immigration.
We recognise the contribution of existing immigrants to our community and society. The issue is about the SCALE of present and future immigration and its IMPACT on our society.
Our underlying concern is that the growing perception that immigration is not under control is very damaging to community relations.
So this part of my talk is focussed on scale and impact.
The scale of immigration
There has been a step change in the scale of immigration since 1997. Net foreign immigration is now running at nearly 250,000 a year. This is more than double the level of 1997. And this number does not include the illegal immigrants whose number, of course, is not known.
An examination of the government's statistics shows that migration to and from the fifteen members of the European Union has been more or less in balance. Meanwhile, emigration of British citizens has hovered around 50,000 a year but in 2002 it rose to 90,000. The impact on our population is therefore about 150,000 per year.
It is important to realise that this is an entirely new situation. It is only since the early 1990s that immigration has added to our population.
Its future impact depends, of course, on what one assumes about the future level of immigration. The assumption which the government has used in its population projections has for some years been well below the actual level. Net immigration has run at an average of 158,000 over the past five years but the government still assume that it will fall to an average of 103,000 over the next thirty years.
Even if this turns out to be the case, the government's principal projection shows that our population will increase by 5.6 million in the next three decades. This is the equivalent of five times the city of Birmingham, and 85% of this increase is due to immigration.
If, instead of the assumed level of 103,000, the actual level of immigration continues over the next three decades, the increase in our population would be about 7.6 million - the equivalent of the population of London.
It is clear, therefore, that talk about a declining population in Britain is complete nonsense. Even if there was no immigration whatever, our population would grow by a million or so in the next twenty or thirty years. Today's problem is not the decline of our population. It is its growth.
The impact of immigration
The impact of this immigration on Britain is intensified by its heavy concentration in London and the south east. London takes 74% of all international migrants and the south east takes another 12%. By contrast, migrants leave Scotland and Northern Ireland while a tiny number go to Wales.
The impact on London is extraordinary. According to the London Analytical Report, prepared by the Downing Street Strategy Unit, the overseas inflow of migrants to London has doubled over the last decade to over 200,000 a year. Meanwhile the outflow of Londoners to other parts of the UK has increased steadily from 200,000 a year to 230,000. The net result of this process is that that half a million Londoners left London in the past decade to be replaced by international migrants. This is having a massive impact on our capital, and on our society, but nobody has been consulted about it.
One obvious impact is on housing. Current housing plans call for an additional 3.8 million homes in the planning period 1996 to 2021. However, these plans were drawn up on the basis of the 1996 immigration assumption of 65,000 a year. On the current immigration assumption we would need 4.5 million houses, of which 1.4 million, or 27%, would be for immigrants. If migration continues at the actual level we would need 4.85 million houses of which 1.75 million would be for immigrants. It is, to put it mildly, not clear where these houses might be built.
Housing is only one aspect of the congestion of which we already face in England, particularly in the south east. Indeed, England is a close second to Holland as the most crowded country in Europe with 380 people per square kilometre compared to Holland's 390. South east is, in fact, nearly twice as crowded as Holland. And England as a whole is twice as crowded as Germany, four times France and twelve time the United States.
The economic arguments
The government claim that migrants contribute to the Exchequer £2.5 billion more than they take in benefits. However, they chose a year in which the public accounts were in surplus and they made an error concerning corporation tax. Nor was any adjustment made for the life cycle costs of immigrants. Correcting for these mistakes brings the total very close to zero.
I note, in passing, that the original Home Office report contained careful qualifications, repeated six times. By the time Ministers deployed the information, the qualifications were dropped and the statements were made as of fact. One is reminded of another notorious dossier.
As for economic growth, all international studies show that the impact of immigration is positive for the destination country but the size of the impact is not great. The definitive study in the United States put it at 0.1 % of GDP per head per year.
To summarise the British perspective
Immigration turned positive for the first time in the early 90s.
It is now a significant factor in both our economy and our society.
Our population, already at record levels, will grow by 5-6 million in the next 30 years. (Equivalent to five times the population of Birmingham). 85% of this will be due to immigration.
The economic benefit is marginal while the congestion costs are considerable.
So we now face a bizarre situation:
The Government is pressing on with a policy which is hugely unpopular.
A policy that will have massive social effects.
Yet one whose economic effects have yet to be seriously debated.
And, no less important, a problem that they seem to be palming off on Europe.
I turn now to the impact of Europe on all this.
The first, and fundamental, point to make is that the demographics vary enormously between European countries.
It is widely claimed by the immigration lobby that "Europe needs immigration".
This is, arguably, true for some countries. It is certainly not true for Britain.
There is a very wide variation in fertility rates from 1.2 in Italy and Spain (the countries usually cited) and 1.9 in France. Britain is at 1.65.
The replacement rate is 2.1 so most countries fall short of this, but, as I say, their circumstances differ very widely indeed.
It is also worth noting that the accession states in Europe have low fertility rates.
The countries that have high fertility rates are, of course, the countries of North Africa and other parts of the Muslim world.
There has been a lot of discussion recently about the impact of the accession of eight East European countries.
The Government claim that "most of the media speculation about the number of new arrivals was unfounded".
What they do not say is that their own forecasts were hopelessly wrong. Last May they predicted a maximum of 13,000 migrants a year from Eastern Europe.
A Migrationwatch study last August took their paper apart and provided a guesstimate of 40,000 a year.
In fact, 8,000 have arrived in the first two months, so it looks as though our estimate may be in the right ballpark.
However, we would be the first to say, as have the Government, that estimates based on only a month or two are likely to be unreliable.
The other point which the Government did not make was that thousands of East Europeans are returning home having been unable to find work in Britain.
Had they been able to access the welfare system in Britain, it is hard to believe that they would have returned to countries where there is little or no welfare.
It follows that the campaign by the press and the opposition to take measures to close off the welfare system was a critical part in ensuring that the numbers remained limited for the time being.
It remains to be seen what will happen when the transitional arrangements come to an end.
It is to be expected that, over the long-term, immigration to and from Eastern Europe will come broadly into balance, as it has with the other expansions of the European Union.
Meanwhile, however, 40,000 people a year is a significant number. Our view is that the number of work permits granted to those from outside the European Union should be reduced to take account of these numbers.
The Irish Government has already done this, reducing the number of work permits from 50,000 a year to 2,500.
The Co-ordination of Policy in the EU
The Government claim that asylum and immigration are "European problems" which require European solutions. This is shallow analysis. The reality is that Britain's situation is entirely different from that of our European partners, demographically, geographically, administratively and historically.
I have described the demographics.
Geographically, the fact that Britain is an island has in the past enabled us to impose tight controls at the borders, allowing almost total freedom once inside.
In continental Europe, the difficulty of controlling borders has led to the development of an entirely different administrative system and different police powers. In Britain, there is no requirement for personal identity cards, as there is in much of Europe. Consequently, there is no effective control of access by foreigners to the National Health Service and other benefits.
Historically, our links with a world-wide Commonwealth and the prevalence of English as a second language throughout the world, place us in a different situation from other European countries, except Ireland.
Co-operation so far has not been very encouraging.
At the EU summit in Seville in June 2002, the press were briefed that the Prime Minister would urge the European Union to use its economic muscle to ensure that third countries nationals that failed asylum were accepted back by their own Governments. This proposal was watered down to extinction.
At the European summit in Greece in June 2003, the Prime Minister pressed for a scheme involving off-shore processing centres outside the jurisdiction of the European Union. This was turned down and Britain was left to conduct a pilot scheme with a small group of sympathetic countries. Nothing has been heard of it since.
Meanwhile, the Brussels bureaucracy has been trundling on.
Under article 63 of the Amsterdam Treaty, they have produced measures in the following four areas:
- criteria for determining member state responsibility (known as Dublin 2)
- minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers
- minimum standards for the definition of asylum
- minimum procedural standards for granting and withdrawing refugee status
The European Council has now adopted directives on the first two of these.
As of April 2004, negotiations on the other two were well advanced.
The Government claimed in their white paper of September 2003 that "it is clearly in Britain's interests for QMV to help us co-operate on issues such as asylum and illegal immigration, which require solutions at European level".
This, to put it mildly, remains to be tested. As I have described, efforts at co-operation so far have not been encouraging.
The first of these four directives is a key issue for the UK - criteria for determining member state responsibility.
Under the Dublin 2 recommendation, responsibility for the examination of an asylum application lies with the Member State where a link with the asylum seeker was first established. In theory, asylum seekers are to be returned to this state, but Home Office officials have told the House of Lords European Union committee that some member states dispute their responsibility to take back individuals - just as they did under the first Dublin convention.
Implications of the EU Constitution
Under the Amsterdam Treaty, Britain (and Ireland) had a comprehensive opt out from measures concerning asylum, immigration and controls over persons crossing internal frontiers. Despite this, the Government have chosen to opt in to a number of measures concerning asylum.
The Government claim to have retained a similar opt out in respect of the Constitution. However, the situation is now much more complex than that.
First, the Constitution sets in stone our obligation to adhere to the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees. Despite six Acts of Parliament in eleven years, this convention has proved to be unworkable. At present, we can (and I believe we should) withdraw from it, giving twelve month's notice to the UN Secretary General.
Secondly, the constitution would make the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights legally binding. Thus the European Court of Justice might well be able to apply its interpretation of the charter to many aspects of UK asylum policy. This area is not at all clear.
Thirdly, the Constitution not only sets in stone the asylum arrangements which I have described, but it introduces a new status of "subsidiary protection" which remains to be defined.
Fourthly, the constitution requires that European laws or framework laws shall establish measures in the areas of:
- conditions of entry and residence, including family reunion
- the definition of the rights of third country nationals residing legally in a member state, including the conditions governing their freedom of movement and of residence in other member states.
These are extremely important areas and the devil will be in the detail. But we risk losing control over the detail.
The Legislative Procedure
The reason for this is that the new asylum and immigration policies will be determined by the "ordinary legislative procedure", or "co-decision", as it is otherwise known. Over the last European Parliament (EP) session, of 1999-2004, increasing use has been made of the so-called fast-track procedure introduced by the Treaty of Amsterdam under which co-decision can be concluded at first reading if the EP and the Council can agree. In the last year of the session, 39% of co-decision dossiers were concluded at first reading.
In a large number of cases this session, the European Parliament and the Council have reached a "political agreement" on the basis of secret negotiations between the two institutions, with the Commission also present. The basis of such negotiations is that the Council undertakes in advance to accept certain amendments if they are made by the EP at first reading.
These agreements are defended by integrationists as improving the speed and efficiency of the EU legislative process, but there are obvious consequences for transparency, accountability and national Parliamentary scrutiny, as a worried Danish Parliament has observed.
The scope for using fast-track "political agreements" will increase very significantly under the Constitution. Asylum and immigration policy will be subject to it and, in these areas, the Council will only have to attain a qualified majority - there will be no national vetoes.
The Government may have secured an opt-out from EU asylum and immigration policy, but they are abandoning it in a series of salami slices. Unlike the Euro opt-out, there is no referendum promised on its prospective abandonment. Following a successful referendum on the Constitution, therefore, it may be abandoned with impunity.
EU asylum and immigration policies may be adopted by a fast-track co-decision procedure that short-circuits national Parliaments.
National control over asylum and immigration is in serious jeopardy. We may still have British border controls and British immigration officers but they will be dancing to a tune composed in Brussels.
Finally, it will be clear to you that we have a massive problem over asylum and immigration. This Constitution can only make it massively worse.