Immigration must be urgently curbed to stop the population hitting 70 million and causing ‘serious harm’ to society, an alliance of leading public figures demanded yesterday. The call to action comes in a report signed by a host of respected names, including former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, ex-Labour speaker Betty Boothroyd and former Tory Party chairman Michael Ancram.
The cross-party group wants manifesto commitments from Labour and the Conservatives to cut net migration to fewer than 40,000 a year – compared to the current rate of 163,000. This is the reduction to net migration – the number of immigrants arriving in the UK, minus those leaving – needed to stop the population reaching 70 million within the next two decades.
Other signatories to the report, headed ‘70million is too many’, include Lord Jordan, former president of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, Tory MP Peter Bottomley, Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle and the economist Lord Skidelsky.
The document pulls no punches in its warning of the consequences for society if the population hits 70million by 2029, as Whitehall statisticians predict. It says: ‘We are gravely concerned about the rapid increase in the population of England that is now forecast. We believe that immigration on such a scale will have a significant impact on our public services, our quality of life and on the nature of our society.’
The demand has been issued by the Cross-Party Group on Balanced Migration, chaired jointly by Labour MP Frank Field and Tory MP Nicholas Soames. The group says it recognises a large reduction in net migration will be difficult to achieve but warns of the danger signals of increasing support for ‘extremist’ political parties. Its document continues: ‘Over the last decade or so we have lost control of immigration. It will take several years to put this right.’
The group calls for a clear political decision to restore control over UK borders and to break the ‘almost automatic link’ between entering Britain and later being granted citizenship. It states ‘We are convinced that failure to take action would be seriously damaging to the future harmony of our society. Nearly a million votes by our fellow citizens for an extremist party amount to a danger sign which must not be ignored. ‘For too long the major political parties have failed to address these issues and the intense, if largely private, concern that they generate throughout our country. ‘If politicians want to rebuild the public’s trust in the political system, they cannot continue to ignore this issue, which matters so much to so many people. The time has come for action.’
The Office for National Statistics suggests the population of the UK will increase from 61.4 million in 2008 to hit the 70million mark by 2029. Looking further ahead to 2034, the population is forecast to grow by 10million, with almost all of the increase in England. Of this rise, 7million will be due to immigration.
In a statement, Mr Field and Mr Soames said: ‘Poll after poll shows the public to be deeply concerned about immigration and its impact on our population. ‘Yet, as we enter the General Election campaign, neither party has promised the British people they will prevent our population hitting 70 million. ‘It is time the parties turned their rhetoric into reality by making manifesto commitments.’
Last month, Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the public was being ‘terrorised by the spectre’ of the population hitting 70 million. The Home Secretary said the Office for National Statistics, which has repeatedly made the projection, had been proved wrong in the past. But he added that, if the politicallysensitive 70million barrier was reached, Britain would ‘cope’ as it is a ‘civilised’ nation.