Britain and Immigration: Fear or Optimism From High Levels of Immigration?

When the EU's transitional immigration rules expire on 1st January 2014, numerous Bulgarians and Romanians and other Eastern Europeans and other foreigners will be heading for Britain. Is this a threat to Britain or an enrichment of its culture and economy?

When the EU's transitional immigration rules expire on 1st January 2014, numerous Bulgarians and Romanians will be heading for Britain. And we should put out the welcome mat. Yes, it's true that there has been a huge fuss about this in the press, but then xenophobia sells newspapers. The truth is that like the other waves of immigrants to Britain, those coming here will overwhelmingly be people with initiative, people who want to better their prospects. And our economy needs them. Immigrants don't steal jobs from the existing British workforce: all the evidence suggests they make possible the creation of new jobs. Mass immigration has always enriched economies and cultures and never more so than in the present globalised world. Yes, it's easy to stoke the fires of xenophobia and get the British public all ugly on the issue, but it's wrong: the pundits and the politicians should be allaying public fears of immigration not pandering to them.

That's the liberal "metropolitan" line, but as its critics see it, it overlooks a crucial aspect of the human personality: we are not a random jumble of individuals who just happen to inhabit the same small island. We are a nation, they say: and our sense of identity with nation is, or should be, central to who we are. And while no civilised nation, least of all Britain, should be opposed to immigration, we should be opposed to the unprecedented scale on which it has been occurring. It's the numbers, stupid. Immigrants have undoubtedly enriched our culture, but for there to be such a thing as British culture, for there to be a sense of nationhood and national pride, it is essential that the newcomers be absorbed into British life rather than form distinct cultural colonies. There's nothing racist about this. Nothing racist in feeling apprehensive about the next influx from Eastern Europe, for example. It's not just a matter of what that might mean for our overstrained services and for British citizens competing for low-paid jobs: it's the damage done to our sense of belonging to the same community. This isn't some kind of extremist position: as polls have shown, seven out of ten Britons think there are too many foreigners in the country.

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