By Richard Pooley
Migrants arriving in Dover, UK, on a Border Force ship in September, 2021 Photo: Andrew Matthews/empics/picture-alliance
Already we Brits are forgetting her, even those few of us who take an interest in Germany and what’s happening there. I refer, of course, to Angela Merkel, chancellor from 2005 to 2021. How will history remember her? As the calm, wise mutti of the nation and the most powerful woman in the world? Or as the over-cautious conservative who did nothing to enact badly-needed reforms? One thing for sure: by 2030 she will be lauded for the astonishing decision she took in October 2015 to allow about one million Syrian refugees to come into Germany. At the time this act caused her approval rating to plummet and allowed the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party to gain so many seats in the German federal election of 2017 that it became the country’s third largest party. But when she left office just six years later most Germans held her in high regard and the AfD had lost enough seats to dwindle to the fifth largest party. The new coalition government is not just continuing Merkel’s policy of allowing around half a million people a year to make their homes in Germany; they are making it easier for migrants to become German citizens.
Meanwhile the current British government, convinced by the Brexit referendum result and the right-wing mainstream media that most Brits are against immigration of any kind, say they will stop at nothing to keep out those few thousand who risk drowning to reach UK shores. Yes, the number who successfully crossed the Channel last year – 28,395 – was more than three times the number who succeeded in 2020. But far, far more such migrants arrive in Germany each year.
We need migrants. A fascinating study – Migration and the Economy: Economic Realities, Social Impacts and Political Choices – was published in September 2018. It’s lead author is Professor Ian Goldin, Professor of Globalisation and Development at the University of Oxford (he also wrote a book in 2014 – Is the Planet Full? - the answer to which was Yes, but…). Goldin’s study had this to say about immigration: “In the UK if immigration had been frozen in 1990, real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2014 would have been around €175 billion lower...In Germany real GDP would have been €155 billion lower.”
We need migrants if we are to prosper. In rich countries such as the UK and Germany new arrivals are twice as likely as native-born Brits and older generation immigrants to start new businesses and create new jobs. Boris Johnson only has to look across his cabinet table to see proof of this. Iraq-born Nadhim Zahawi, now Secretary of State for Education (taking over from incompetent, Yorkshire-born Gavin Wilkinson), fled Iraq aged nine. He was a co-founder and CEO of the highly-successful market research firm YouGov. Alok Sharma, President of COP 26 in Glasgow, arrived in the UK from India aged five and had a career in corporate finance before moving into politics. These two sit alongside a number of second-generation and, mostly, talented immigrants. Sajid Javid, Health Secretary, formerly Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and high-flying banker for eighteen years, makes much of being the son of a Pakistani bus driver. He should make more of having a brother who is a property tycoon. Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, is the son of British Indian parents who emigrated from East Africa. He worked for Goldman Sachs and a couple of hedge funds before becoming a politician. The Business Secretary is Kwasi Kwarteng. His parents emigrated from Ghana in the 1960s. And then there is the scourge of migrants and bully of officials, Priti Patel, Home Secretary, whose parents came to the UK from Uganda and set up a chain of newsagents across south-east England.
We can only prosper if we innovate. As the Goldin-led study reported, over 40% of global patent applications are filed by immigrants. Take the example of Alaa Alaizoki. He is a Syrian at Swansea University in Wales, studying for an engineering doctorate. Remember the last time you opened a package of meat bought at the supermarket? What did you do with that wet piece of plastic padding underneath the meat. You threw it away, of course. Around 5 to 8% of the 800,000 tonnes of meat-packaging plastic waste produced in the UK every year consists of this padding. Good news: Mr Alaizoki has created and patented a 100% recyclable meat tray which dispenses with the need for this padding by drawing moisture into its specially designed wells without letting it back out. Even better news according to Mr Alaizoki: “This has the potential to be used in nappies and sanitary products, which also currently go straight into landfill.” The mind boggles at what this single invention could achieve. But it was something else Mr Alaizoki said which attracted me to his story: “Swansea has supported my learning, and given me the opportunity for me to fulfil my potential. I have a wife and child here now, and it feels like home, even though the majority of my family are still back in Syria, I’m just so glad to have come up with an invention which is going to improve the lives of everyone in my adopted home.”
We won’t prosper if we cannot find people to do the jobs that need doing. Too many fruit and vegetable crops on British farms last year rotted in the fields because not enough Brits were able or prepared to pick them. The Government refused to let in the workers from the EU who have the ability and willingness to do these jobs. We all know about the lack of nurses and doctors in the National Health Service. It’s even worse in the care sector. 1 in 10 care-working jobs in the UK are unfilled.
My wife has recently experienced at first-hand the shortage of live-in carers. She spent much of November and early December trying to find full-time care for her step-father, aged 87 (her mother, his official carer, will be 95 next week). The patience of the local organiser at the excellent care company she finally chose was tested to the utmost. One white British employee, perhaps knowing the power over his employer he now has, chose to renege on his promise to come back from a Spanish sojourn to take up the post of live-in carer. A Jamaican-born young woman did it instead, handing over to a South African (Zulu) after two weeks. I can’t say my step-father-in-law was happy with this; he wasn’t. But the white British carers he would have preferred were simply not available. He went into Gloucestershire Royal Hospital early this month. On death watch but unable to go into the hospital my wife and mother-in-law were kept informed by several medical staff at least two of whom were not UK-born.*
We will certainly not prosper if we allow the UK population to decline at the same time as the number of elderly Brits increases and women have fewer children. For the first time the UK’s Office of National Statistics has predicted that the number of people living in the UK in the next ten years would fall if were not for immigration. The ONS expects however that over the next ten years there will be 200,000 more people coming into the UK each year than leaving it. Many think that we are an overcrowded country and would welcome a cut in the population. I want to agree but don’t want to live in a country where the old outnumber the young and where all of us are becoming poorer as a result.
If you have come this far with me, you are probably shouting “Yes, but the bloody, racist voters of this country won’t accept more immigration.” If so, you are wrong. For a start what proof do you have that most UK voters are racist? I, a passionate Remainer, have many friends and family members who voted for the UK to leave the European Union but only two gave overtly racist reasons for doing so. The pollster Ipsos Mori has been asking British people the same question - should immigration be reduced? – since the 1970s. The most recent survey revealed that 45% want to cut immigration, the lowest number in nearly fifty years. True, only 8% currently want the number of migrants to increase. But that leaves nearly half of the respondents who are not fussed either way. What they (and probably many of the others) surely want is for immigration to be controlled and the decision on who comes in and who does not to be made long before any potential migrant is so desperate that they will risk their lives and the last of their money to get here. And they want to be confident that immigrants will contribute to our society, whatever the colour of their skin or the nature of their beliefs. All of this means that we should be recruiting people from the existing migrant communities in the UK to become British consular officials in refugee camps and British embassies and consulates in the EU, Turkey and elsewhere. They can speak the languages of potential migrants and know better than any home-grown Brit who are genuine refugees and who not.
Finally, we have to do what the Germans are doing: actively integrating these new citizens into the society they have joined. They are learning German and about Germany. They are being trained to fill jobs which are unfilled. For far too long British governments of every stripe have allowed closed communities of immigrants to form in our cities and towns. I spent much of my working life trying to help businesspeople from different cultures around the world understand each other’s ways of thinking and acting. I find I am still doing so in semi-retirement. Allowing people to stay firmly fixed to doing and thinking things in the way they learned as children is not helping them to succeed in life in their new country. A survey in Germany showed that over three-quarters of Germans supported Merkel’s decision to let previously rejected asylum seekers stay if they integrated fully into German society and either worked or were being trained to work.
Why can’t Johnson and his Tory party learn from his and their great hero, Winston Churchill? In 1905 the Alien Act was passed by the Conservative Government to try and stop the tens of thousands of Jews fleeing the pogroms of Tsarist Russia from coming into the UK. Churchill was so furious he left the Conservative party and joined the Liberals. He argued that the new law would “appeal to insular prejudice against foreigners and fan racial prejudice.” He accused his erstwhile colleagues of ignoring “the old, tolerant and generous practices of free entry and asylum to which this country has long adhered and from which it has so far greatly gained.” Some 150,000 Jews did eventually come; mostly poor but young, skilled craftspeople and tradesmen desperate to find a new life and escape death. They were prepared from the start not to be a burden on the countries that took them in. Sure enough they enormously enriched our society in every sense. Are those Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans, Somalis fleeing persecution and death today any different?
*He died on 15 January surrounded, we believe, by non-immigrant nurses and doctors. Is there a deliberate but unvoiced policy for palliative care to be given by those with whom the dying would be most comfortable? It could never be admitted, of course, but I can’t say I disagree with it.