[Previously by David Orland: 'We Should Have Had A Final Go On Immigration'—UK Tories]
"If we are not careful, we will be transformed into a global traffic station and that is not what most people mean by being part of a country. " British Labour Party MP Frank Field.
When Poland and seven other former Soviet bloc countries joined the European Union in 2004, Tony Blair's government assured the British public that the country would not be flooded by job-seeking migrants from the East. At most, ministers asserted—at most—Britain could expect around 15,000 additional immigrants per year.
Not for the first time, a government's math has proven wildly, grotesquely wrong. According to a new Home Office study of worker registration numbers, fully 447,000 people have migrated to Britain from the new EU member states since visa requirements were lifted two years ago.
Since those counted do not include self-employed people such as contractors and and plumbers, the actual number is likely much higher.
Open borders enthusiasts have been quick to point out the story's bright side. The vast majority of the new arrivals are young, few bring children or elderly relatives with them, and a remarkable 97 percent are employed full-time. The Slavic invasion of Britain, they conclude, has been a smashing success.
And yet the latest numbers couldn't come at a worse time for Tony Blair. Over the past year, Blair's government has been wracked by an ever-deepening series of immigration-related scandals. At the same time, the ongoing threat of homegrown Islamic extremism has led a number of public figures to question the value of diversity and multiculturalism in ways that would have been unthinkable just five years ago.
In Britain, at least, the tide seems to have turned. According to a poll conducted for the Sunday Times a week before the most recent Home Office report:
"Just 14% of people strongly agree that immigration is 'generally good' for Britain—with double that number taking the opposite view. A total of 63% say immigration laws should be "much tougher"—up from 58% 18 months ago—while a further 11% say there should be no more immigration." [ Public wants much harsher immigration policy, says poll, August 20, 2006]
The latest Home Office numbers, in this respect, are sure to fuel public concern about the pace and scale of Britain's transformation—as indeed they should.
Immigration to Britain has never been higher. Since Labour came to power in 1997, over a million non-EU immigrants have been granted the right to live in the country. A further 4 to 9 hundred thousand illegal aliens—for obvious reasons, no one is sure of the actual number—are believed to be in the country.
And despite government promises to the contrary, the pace of immigration shows no signs of slowing. In 2005 alone, a record 178,120 non-EU immigrants (70 percent of them from Africa) were granted settlement rights.
Britain's Polish predicament gives the lie to the frequent assertion of immigration enthusiasts that no-one would worry if immigrants were white. Polish immigrants are no doubt a better fit for Britain than African—or, soon, Turkish—ones. But in today's political climate, that is no longer the question.
As Times columnist Camilla Cavendish recently wrote in response to the government's call for a "mature discussion" of immigration:
"Our leaders have been conducting a massive and undemocratic experiment on Britain's population, the results of which we will not be able to judge fully for many years. It is quite wrong that a small elite has been dictating the country's future behind closed doors. Free debate is a good start. Getting a grip would be even better." [ Yes, you're right Mr Reid, but how are you going to keep the illegals out? Camilla Cavendish, August 10, 2006]
In democratic society, indefinite mass immigration is not viable policy. Tragically, the British political Establishment has only just begun to come around to this point of view.
David Orland [email him], proprietor of the faute de pire blog, lives in Paris.