[Previously by David Orland Brigitte Bardot's Cry In The Silence]
Earlier this year, 19 cockle-pickers (cockles are a type of mussel) drowned in the waters of Lancashire's Morecambe Bay. As investigators arrived on the scene, the story quickly took a turn for the grotesque: the drowned cockle-pickers were all illegal Chinese immigrants, employed by criminal gangs to work among the treacherous shoals and fast-moving tides of coastal northwest England.
For once, a case of illegals truly doing work the locals wouldn't.
The Morecambe Bay episode is just one in a series of recent incidents to dramatize the sorry state of contemporary British immigration policy. Rates of immigration to Britain are at an all time high, with slightly over 250,000 immigrants, almost all of them from outside the EU, arriving there in 2002 alone. Meanwhile, recent polls suggest that the British public has had about enough. Over the past year alone, immigration has risen from 12th to third in rankings of publicly important issues.
Public dissatisfaction is particularly intense in regards to Britain's asylum policy, the most generous in Europe. Over the past five years, Britain has seen asylum claims more than double (84,000 in 2002 against 32,000 in 1997).
Under growing pressure to reform the system, which even the government admits is wracked by fraud, Tony Blair last year promised to reduce asylum claims by half.
Now, a new scandal is again forcing the issue into the open. Just four days after Immigration Minister Beverley Hughes was forced to resign for misleading Parliament on asylum issues, the Sunday Telegraph revealed that Tony Blair had struck a deal with Romanian leader Adrian Nastase to waive visa requirements on Romanians coming to Britain. [Revealed: Blair made deal with Romanian PM to let in migrants]
In exchange, Nastase was to help the government discourage Romanians from claiming asylum there.
According to the April 4th story:
"The pact, which was finalized at the EU summit in Rome last October, entailed the lifting of visa requirements this spring as a reward for a decrease in the number of asylum applicants from Romania. This helped the Government to meet a key pledge made by Mr. Blair."
[Revealed: Blair made deal with Romanian PM to let in migrants]
Blair aides have hotly denied the charge, claiming that "the assertion is based on something that is impossible to prove… Tony is very angry about this." Yet early attempts on the part of the government to play down the crisis badly backfired when new leaks suggested that immigration officials had been ordered to avoid arresting suspected illegals for fear that they would claim asylum.
Meanwhile, a YouGov poll revealed that 80% of British voters believe the government is not tough enough on immigration issues. Only 29% expressed confidence that Blair would fix the problems.
Hoping to regain control of the situation, Blair hastily called a summit of government ministers last week. Leaving the April 6th summit, he admitted that voters were "right to be angry over immigration." He also pledged to personally oversee efforts to reform the asylum system.
For supporters of British immigration reform, this is good news indeed. And yet Blair's summit proposals—which include tighter scrutiny of student visa programs, a crackdown on bogus marriages, and an internal review of asylum statistics—do not go nearly far enough.
As Migration Watch UK, a non-partisan immigration reform group, put it:
"Public concern is not just about abuse of the immigration system. It is also about the nature and scale of immigration which is the highest in our history."
Unfortunately, both Tony Blair's Labour Party and the Conservative opposition are united in pretending that Britain's immigration woes end with asylum. At the April 6th summit, Blair distinguished between asylum policy, which needed reform, and immigration policy more generally, which doesn't.
VDARE.COM readers will be familiar with the argument. As Home Secretary David Blunkett put it: "We need people to do the jobs that we require, but we need them to do so legally, openly and to contribute to our economy."
David Davis, immigration spokesman for the Conservative Opposition, has so far done a fine job riding the asylum controversy. Like Labour, however, the Conservatives are trying to limit fallout from the crisis. As Andrew Rawnsley put it in the Guardian, "Mr Davis has also been careful to make government competence and truthfulness his grounds for attack so that no one has been given an opportunity to tar him as a racist."
For British immigration reformers, this is a moment of great opportunity. Public dissatisfaction has clearly settled on the asylum issue—"a scandalette masquerading as a full-blown outrage" in Rawnsley's phrase—as a proxy for addressing the question that dare not speak its name.
Meanwhile, even the establishment Left seems to be having second thoughts on the virtues of multiculturalism and tax-subsidized migration. With European elections quickly approaching and fears growing over the consequences of EU enlargement, it remains to be seen whether the Conservatives will grasp this, their first opportunity in years to become a serious force in English politics.
The Conservatives have nothing to lose. Britain, however, does.
David Orland [email him], a columnist for www.boundless.org, lives in France.