Douglas Carswell gave this speech to an audience in Westminster as part of a series of events hosted by British Future. During the run-up to the 2015 General Election and beyond, British Future is inviting leading public voices, from across the political spectrum, to look beyond the election campaign to address the challenges facing Britain over the next 5-10 years – inviting them to offer their competing visions of the future, and to set out what an inclusive, fair and welcoming Britain would look like.
“Thank you to British Future for inviting me to speak this evening.
Sunder and I first met when he was a Fabian and I was still a Conservative. British Future is somewhere where those on different places on the political spectrum can come together to discuss issues of immigration, integration and identity.
British Future promotes integration in Britain. It recognises both the positive impact of immigration, but also recognises the pressures that come with it.
These are important subjects , vital to the future of our country. They are too important to be left to the left. I am pleased to be here as a UKIP MP to be a part of the conversation.
Britain is a better place to live than ever before. We are living longer, healthier lives than at any time in history. Household income today is twice what it was fifty years ago. In the mid-1960s, most homes did not have central heating. Twice as many people now own a car.
There may be twelve million more people living in Britain today than there were half a century ago, but the rivers are less polluted and the air cleaner. We have more leisure time to enjoy the outdoors than ever before. A generation ago, phoning the relatives in Australia would have been a costly Christmas treat. Facetime now lets us chat anytime.
Britain has got better because of change. The problems that we face as a country arise not because of change, but because of failure to adapt to change. A failure of public policy innovation. No where is this more so than with immigration.
We have a mid-twentieth century approach to immigration in a twenty first century world of hyper mobility. It does not work.
David Cameron promised to cut net migration from “the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands”. Net inward migration is now back up the levels seen under Labour.
No government can deliver on a promise to cut immigration until we have a government that controls our borders. Fifty year old rules, drawn up when what became the European Union had a mere six members, now confer an automatic right to settle in the UK on 400 million EU citizens.
Each day, hundreds of thousands of people log in and log out of the London underground. Yet successive governments have failed to devise a system able to log people in and out when they cross our borders. Without even the most cursory exit controls, no government really knows if those coming in leave once their visas expire.
Unable to check if those with temporary visas exit the UK, the system ends up treating visitors we should welcome with suspicion.
Perhaps the greatest failing of the immigration system is that it discriminates against precisely the sort of people that, in a world of increasing labour mobility, we might actually want to attract.
Since 400 million EU citizens have a right to come, lowering immigration numbers means making it harder for non-EU people to enter the UK. Thus do we prioritise an EU citizen with a criminal record over someone with a doctorate from India or Singapore. It makes no sense.
As so often happens when an area of public policy falls within the remit of the EU, official thinking ossifies and outdated assumptions take hold.
Over the past two decades there has been no shortage of immigration legislation. Half a dozen Acts have passed through Parliament. Has this increasingly declamatory legislation had much effect on actual levels of immigration?
It is this sense of detachment between what ministers tell us is going on, and what people up and down the country experience in their everyday lives that helps explain much of the public disquiet over immigration.
In 2003, the government predicted that 15,000 Poles a year would move to Britain. The reality was closer to 15,000 a month.
Public anxiety over large scale immigration is entirely legitimate. So is the desire to want a government willing to control our borders.
UKIP recongises that no government can control our borders until we leave the EU and end the automatic right of 400 million people to settle in the UK.
Britain needs a point-based immigration system, similar to that in Australia. An eVisitor visa scheme would make it easy for legitimate visitors and tourists to enter the UK. Parliament would annually agree on a quota of those that would be allowed to permanently settle – and in time acquire citizenship. Places would be allocated on the basis of the skills that those first generation Britons would bring with them.
Because we want to attract the brightest and the best, we would exclude university students from the annual quota total. Perhaps, if there was in any one particular year, say, a shortage of doctors or fruit pickers, there would be a rational debate about the need to raise the quota accordingly.
And that is precisely the point. Under such a system, we could have a meaningful, democratic debate about the need to balance immigration controls with the need for labour mobility.
Half a century ago, Enoch Powell made a speech about immigration that made it difficult to even mention immigration in Westminster. Full of foreboding, Powell warned of mass immigration leading to major unrest.
Powell was – as Tony Blair once put it – “one of the great figures of twentieth century British politics”. He was also a distinguished soldier, linguist and classicist. In so many different ways he achieved so much.
But in his pessimism, Powell was wrong.
There are those who say that Powell was much more than the speech he gave to the Birmingham Conservatives on April 20th1968. Of course he was. I personally prefer to think of Powell addressing Clacton Conservatives in March 1969, the speech in which he first outlined his doubts about joining the European Common Market. He was a free market thinker ahead of his time.
But in his assessment of immigration, he was not prophetic. He did not foresee what lay ahead. What he feared did not come to pass.
Immigration has not been without its challenges. Yet it has been, overwhelmingly, a story of success. Britain today is more at ease with the multi-ethnic society that we have become than once seemed imaginable – and not just to Enoch Powell. Like many before and since, Powell underestimated the ability of a free society to adapt.
Perhaps that post-war pessimism was understandable. When Powell was born, King-Emperor George V reigned over a fifth of human kind. By the time Powell reached middle age, much of it was gone. Britain had entered a world of crises, first with Sterling, then Suez, then Sterling again.
Powell talked of Britain “heaping up its own funeral pyre”. Yet our country has more than survived. We have, in all kinds of ways, thrived.
Equally wrong, too, has been the “multiculti group think” of much of the past few decades. That, too, underestimates the strength of social cohesion to create and renew common identity. Social cohesion has happened precisely because people have been defined by what they share, not by difference.
One of the reasons I so respect and admire the work of British Future is precisely because British Future focuses unapologetically on the need for integration. Integration and social cohesion are things that we are going to have to work on. And it is my view that a prerequisite for successful social cohesion is control of our borders.
From Medieval Venice to early modern Amsterdam to twenty first century Canada, all successful societies need labour mobility. The trend towards more labour mobility is likely to increase as a natural consequence of greater specialisation and exchange. Try to imagine a day in London, or Birmingham or Clacton with no labour mobility. You might not get very far. If ill, you would might struggle to get medical care.
Labour mobility is a fact of the modern economy. It will be so in the future too. And that is all the more reason to be able to manage it.
Controlling our borders is not the same thing as closing our borders. Almost one in five workers in Switzerland is non-Swiss. Having a London-level of labour mobility across an entire country is not without controversy in Switzerland, but it is manageable.
Only by having control of our borders will we be able to build the level of social cohesion the future is going to need.
The default attack on my party is that we are obsessed with immigration. We are, it is repeatedly suggested, somehow extreme. Not so.
Look at what UKIP’s policy actually is. It is, I believe, extraordinary reasonable and fair.
Imagine for a moment that UKIP’s was advocating the precise opposite of what we are calling for. Suppose, if you will, that UKIP was demanding that there be no controls on the right of 400 million people to settle here. What if we were insisting that policy exclude talented Indians and Chinese, but not those with criminal records.
Now that really would be extreme. It is, of course, the position of each of the establishment parties.”