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BRUM MINISTER WARNS OF IMMIGRATION DANGER

18-04-2007

Immigration Minister Liam Byrne - the MP for Hodge Hill in Birmingham - has made an outspoken attack on the pace of new arrivals into Britain, saying that it has left the country “deeply troubled”.

Byrne made the comments in a pamphlet issued by the centre-left think tank The Policy Network.

He said that in one school his own constituency, the number of children who had English as a second language had increased from 5% to 20% in just one year.

“We live in a world where migrants move faster than ministers, and the public services in some communities can find it difficult to change as quickly as their communities are changing” Byrne added.

The issue is a favourite New Labour theme; former Home Secretary David Blunkett once attacked migrants who couldn’t speak English, while Gordon Brown has promoted the notion of an inclusive, cosmopolitan “Britishness”.

Successive Home Office ministers Charles Clarke and John Reid have both promised "crackdowns", yet for all the rhetoric, immigration has continued on an unprecedented scale - especiallysincethe expansion of the EU in 2004.

Thegovernment predictedthat just 13,000workers would come fromEastern Europe, but there haveactually been600,000 new arrivals.

Byrne says: “It’s not racist for Labour to debate immigration…” and few people would disagree; but the point is that the party has been debating it for years, without taking positive action.

The reality is that as a member of the European Union, Britain’s scope to act independently and secure its borders has been eroded to the point of invisibility.

None of this should obscure the fact that, on the whole, immigration is an essential feature of any vibrant, modern economy; helping to replenish the workforce with youth and energy. It also helps keep wages low, which is good for business in a competitive global economy.

Yet there’s also no denying thatthe current immigrationsystem has worked for years against the poorest, least educated members of society; it is their jobs which are undermined by the arrival of cheap labour, and the services they access (especially in the area of health and education) whichcome under the greatestpressure.

This partly explains the success of the BNP in predominantly white, working class areas of traditional Labour party support.

No doubt Byrne’s comments will go down well in Shard End - part of the Hodge Hill constituency - where Labour’s deputy leader Ian Ward faces a threat from the far-right in the forthcoming local elections.

The question now though is that having recognised the problem - what is the immigration minister going to do about it?

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