Once again a British leader has made a speech attacking the effects of uncontrolled immigration.

This wasn’t unexpected of course. It happens with nauseating regularity every time the economy is performing less well than it should. The language is deliberately negative using terms such as “clogging” and “out of control”. A few years ago it was “swamping”. It’s like saying “look guys stop accusing us of messing up the economy; these are your real enemies.” It’s to divert our attention from the really important stuff.

But just how “bad” is immigration anyway?

There’s a lot of misinformation about “illegal” immigrants. You know – those people who come here without permission to steal our jobs; claim benefits and get free treatment on the NHS. But… hang on a minute. How can an “illegal” immigrant do any of those things? Anybody who’s been through the benefits system knows that you don’t just roll up and leave with a wad of cash. You fill in forms confirming your eligibility; you give your National Insurance number. Unless you work in the black market you can’t get a job without paperwork. Okay they’re a bit more flexible if you turn up seriously injured in casualty but who would go to those lengths just to get emergency treatment that they wouldn’t otherwise have needed? It would be foolish to say there aren’t any illegal immigrants in the country as there patently are but those people are going to do everything within their power to stay out of sight of authority. They will do whatever they can to avoid making themselves known to the DSS or the NHS. If they fail they risk deportation.

What about legal immigrants? We’ve all heard the refrain about Britain being a “soft touch”. We know all about our “generous benefit system” which forces the severely disabled to find work and the granny to stop seeing her grandchildren because she’s not allowed to have a spare room – yes that’s the one! We all know how these immigrants sit around their camp fires in places far away going through their check list of which country has the best unemployment benefit system before making a fully informed and cynical decision about where they’re going to land up and claim asylum don’t we? I’m sorry but this really doesn’t happen.

And yes it’s not an automatic choice to come to the UK. The scenario of potential immigrants looking for the country where they get the best deal is extremely far-fetched. Most people tend to go to places where they feel most comfortable. On an individual level this might mean a place where there’s already somebody they know but on a group level it’s more likely to be somewhere with strong cultural links – particularly linguistic links. This is why I don’t envisage a great rush of Romanians and Bulgarians to these shores. Sure there may be a few but there are countries where they will feel a stronger connection than the UK assuming they decide to go anywhere at all.

What about asylum seekers? These are generally people who are in real danger back home and yes, a lot of them come to Britain. But that’s not to exploit our benefits system. It’s actually because Britain is a world power and we speak English. We created an empire that covered a quarter of the globe after all. Sometimes we relocated people to other territories from where they were later expelled; so as former imperial subjects they came to the mother country to settle. For some reason many also see us as a force for good in the world. Britain has always provided safe haven for persecuted groups and this is something of which i’m immensely proud. Many such migrants return as soon as it is safe to do so or within a generation or two. In the meantime they enrich our culture a little more and we’ve won some friends along the way.

So that leaves European migrants from within the EU and these people fall firmly into the category of “as ever was”. Most recently it was Poles and those from the Baltic States coming in the greatest numbers. When I was younger it was Italians and Portuguese. People travel. They arrive to work or trade and within a generation they either leave or integrate with the “indigenous” population. I know this as i’m visibly part of the indigenous population yet my granny was a Latvian refugee who fled here between the wars. This is personal and I’m far from alone.

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