Following the recent regional elections in Germany, I was asked by The New Day, a daily newspaper recently launched here in the UK, to reflect upon the impact of immigration on British politics. Here is the edited, published (15 March 2016) version of the piece I wrote and the slightly longer original version I had submitted.
The success of the xenophobic AfD in this weekend’s elections in Germany shows the extent to which anti-immigrant sentiment is now driving national politics across Europe and increasingly in Britain.
As a European immigrant established in the UK since 2002, I have witnessed with growing concern the hardening of British public opinion on this issue. While Britain remains a wonderfully open and tolerant society, British politics are now largely driven by anti-immigration sentiment. As in other European nations, mainstream politicians have failed to confront it head-on. Back in 2007, Gordon Brown even echoed the continental far right, calling for “British jobs for British workers”. For too long, UK politicians have complacently ignored the threat of right-wing populism. But Britain is no more immune to nationalism and racism than France or Hungary are. Though the first-past-the-post system has largely kept xenophobes out the Commons, the current debate on Brexit testifies to the radicalisation of the Tory party. What used to be confined to the xenophobic rants of the Express or the Mail is fast becoming the new orthodoxy within many Conservative Party constituency associations. It is high time MPs told the incontrovertible truth about immigration: it is simply indispensable to preserve the prosperity of societies whose populations are both ageing and dwindling. Whatever the Sun and UKIP would have you believe, we immigrants didn’t steal our jobs; we earned them the hard way like everyone else in the land and we work just as hard to keep them. Likewise, we are not responsible for the parlous state of the NHS and public services. Our taxes, like yours, pay for it and we draw little from them.
Anti-immigrant sentiment does not just undermine democratic values; it also threatens our prosperity in Britain and across Europe. Ignore it at your peril.