The news that, according to the Office for National Statistics our population could almost double by 2081 [Daily Telegraph Nov 28 2007] is clearly due in large part to the uncontrolled immigration allowed by this Government over the last decade. The ONS was giving evidence to a Lords committee on the issue.
On current trends, the ONS predicts the population rising to 71 million by 2031 and 85 million by 2081. But in the event of birth rates increasing faster than anticipated, immigration staying high and people simply living longer, the figure could hit 108 million – nearly twice the current 60 million. It is worth considering that the UK already has the second highest density of population in Europe (Holland has the highest). And we are already more crowded than China and India. Before long, we will have to start adding an extra lane to all our motorways.
There are several factors to consider:
As the Lords committee heard, first there is the strain on our hospitals and schools due to sheer numbers, but there is also the problem of proper integration.
People of any faith or culture are welcome to come here as far as I am concerned, provided they speak English or are willing to learn it, have proper qualifications and are willing to accept the norms of British culture. About half of the immigrants who have come here in the last ten years have come from outside the EU. Many of these immigrants, of course, are Muslims. As I made quite clear when speaking in the Commons debate on the Queen’s Speech, I believe that most Muslims contribute a great deal of good to the country, in terms of daily prayer, hard work and family values. But while the majority are law-abiding and peaceable and many contribute usefully to the economy, there is a problem integrating a sizeable minority who are unwilling to accept the norms of British culture. As a survey for Channel 4 found last year, almost a quarter thought the 7/7 bombings of London could be justified because of the Government’s support for the US ‘war on terror’.
That 23 per cent is the equivalent of 370,000 of the 1.6m Muslims living in the UK. Again, around a third of that 1.6 million would rather live under Sharia law. About the same number even hope Britain will one day become an Islamic state.
If this poll is to be believed, it is clear that, with the best will in the world, there are limits to the persuadability of a certain hard-core. So while I applaud current Conservative policy to put a cap on non-EU immigrants as a step in the right direction, we now need more detail on this. I think we are perfectly entitled as a nation to admit people who will contribute usefully to the economy. I also believe that the addition of groups from various non-European cultures adds a welcome splash of variety to the country, and, as we have seen with much Hindu immigration, many people who come here have excellent qualifications.
Nonetheless, we must ensure that there is a very tight cap.
We should also make sure that official bodies which claim to speak for the Muslim community, such as the Muslim Council of Britain, are asked to publicly confront and debate these issues with a view to encouraging acceptance of the need for integration. Comparing Britain to Nazi Germany, as was done by the head of the MCB last month, shows a dangerous degree of disengagement from the reality of our culture. Those who enjoy both our freedoms and our public services should be firmly told that there is no future in a ghetto mentality. Muslim community leaders must be prepared to commit themselves to zero tolerance of rabble-rousing imams and of any publications or websites inciting, violence, racial or religious hatred or separatism.
To lighten this whole debate, which sometimes takes on too grim an aspect, I would like to insist that people of any religion who come here must be prepared to accept the British sense of humour. As a Catholic I am often teased about my faith, and I take it in good heart, as I am sure do most of my fellow-Christians in Britain. This is the way to make yourself acceptable to the British: let them laugh at you. The Jews have managed to do this with great success, and it has helped them to become one of the most successfully integrated of all non-Christian groups.
As for European immigrants in general, their common cultural heritage means there is no problem of integration. The Poles who have come here, for instance, are examples of hard-working and enterprising people with a strong Christian background. But in terms of sheer numbers of European immigrants, it is plain as a pikestaff that the Government was extremely ill-advised to make itself the only country in the EU to allow such an influx.
Given that EU laws prevent us from limiting immigration from our EU partners, one is entitled to ask: is the European Union in fact now, to all intents and purposes, a country?
The longer the Government fails to grasp this nettle, the more painful will be the sting.
NOP for Channel 4 Dispatches, March-April 2006