Are there too many immigrants in Britain?

Margaret Mountford and Nick Hewer investigate the immigration debate...

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Are there too many immigrants in Britain?
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The BBC has faced much criticism for its treatment of one of the hottest topics in politics: immigration. So, a year after the corporation admitted a “deep liberal bias” had hampered its reporting of the subject comes a two-parter in which Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford bring six recent migrants face to face with six sceptical Brits to see how they live and work. Each native Brit is asked: is the immigrant you met a gain for Britain or a drain on it?

There are useful insights, but it’s a far from forensic examination. After all, who, as one participant says candidly, would condemn someone they’d spent time with as a “drain”? Nick and Margaret tell us what they learnt.

Is immigration just about economics? If people coming here make the country richer, is that the end of the story?

Margaret No, because of the cultural issues. If you live in a community that has been taken over by a different ethnic group, even if they bring prosperity and your high street is booming, I doubt you’d think, “Gosh, aren’t we lucky we’re doing well out of this.” You’d think, “I don’t want to live here any more.” One British couple, Ted and Margaret [third and fourth left, below] felt ill at ease going into the Asian supermarkets that had opened in their neighbourhood. They didn’t even recognise the vegetables on sale. 

Margaret Thatcher famously declared that British people feared being “swamped”.

Nick Yeah. Well, Ted and Margaret do feel they’ve been swamped and they’ve moved home as a result. Margaret calls it “white flight”. And you can’t blame them for feeling that way. But “swamping” only applies if there’s no integration. If new people moving into an area try to integrate, you’re not swamped, are you?

Middle-class liberals benefit from cheap Polish decorators. So is it easier for them as they’re not affected by the downsides?

Margaret No one’s ever accused me of being a middle-class liberal before. Yes, a lot of middle-class liberals probably think, “It suits us because we get the benefit of the cheaper labour at one end and also the highly skilled people at the other.” For example, 25 per cent of NHS doctors are foreign – the NHS couldn’t survive without them.

A restaurateur says in 27 years only ten Brits applied to be a waiter. What did you think?

Nick I wasn’t surprised.

Does that mean immigrants work harder?

Nick Well, the guy who learns a foreign language, then gets up and treks halfway across Europe, of course he’s driven. Of course he’s going to work hard when he gets here.
Margaret And he hasn’t got anything to fall back on either, has he? Someone who’s come here to work can’t sit at home for weeks being supported by his parents.

So, what conclusions do you draw?

Margaret I think the question is how we deal with immigrants here, not whether we stop them coming. We’ve allowed ghettoes to grow up and – to use Thatcher’s word – areas to be swamped by people of one ethnic origin. 

Nick and Margaret: Too Many Immigrants? starts tonight at 9:00pm on BBC1.