Statement from Phil Woolas MP on who ‘is British’


3:53 pm - March 3rd 2009

by Sunder Katwala    


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I recently posted a letter to Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, in response to an article that suggested British-born descendants of immigrants shouldn’t classify themselves as ‘British’. I asked immigration minister Phil Woolas if he had any comment and received this:

Dear Sunder

Most people believe that it is the Government who have released these figures in this way. In fact, it was the ONS with no Ministerial involvement and indeed despite my objections. What’s worse is that the press release which ran to nine pages highlighted the 1 in 9 figure as the main finding. So, Government gets the blame by some for whipping up anti-foreign sentiment when it is the independent ONS who are playing politics. The justification from the ONS who had, out of schedule, highlighted the figure two weeks earlier because it was “topical” is, at best, naive or, at worst, sinister.

The fact that 1 in 9 people who are in Britain (for over a year) were born overseas is neither new nor informative. It includes around 370,000 undergraduates who will not stay in this country as well as those British nationals born overseas including around a quarter of a million born to our armed forces personnel serving overseas. The figure of twelve months is arbitrary. Surely the distinction between temporary residence and Indefinite Leave to Remain and full citizenship is more useful in framing a mature debate.

There are times in our history when the numbers of residents born overseas was higher than 1 in 9. Robert Winder’s brilliant history of migration estimates that at the time of the Huguenot migration the figure could have been as high as one in three.

The whole issue highlights the toxic nature of this debate.

Phil Woolas MP
Immigration Minister

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About the author
Sunder Katwala is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is the director of British Future, a think-tank addressing identity and integration, migration and opportunity. He was formerly secretary-general of the Fabian Society.
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Reader comments


Its outrageous if its true that the ONS are playing politics in such a way.

And I can’t believe but I’m agreeing with Phil Woolas for the first time.

at the time of the Huguenot migration the figure could have been as high as one in three.

Yeah, who let that fucking Simon Le Bon in?

Has Darce replied to that letter?

I would love to know if he now views Churchill and the Royal family as immigrant scum.

How much does the ONS cost? Should it be abolished? Or at least its press department?

4. Nick, you sound like a dictator in the making.

Sally,

I was slightly surprised, this morning, to receive a friendly call from the Daily Mail letters editor, to tell me that they would like to run a version of the letter in tomorrow’s paper. I will paste it into the original thread or here if/when it appears tomorrow. I sent in a longer letter (removing the appeasement reference as a bit playground) to make the point that this is an offensive and extremist idea more clearly. But Phillip, Wills, Harry, Churchill and the point about extremism are all in the version I have seen.

He asked if anybody else had got back to me, which they hadn’t yet. The gist was that they wanted to run the letter to correct the point. I am not quoting verbatim, but the reason I was given was that errors in editing had mixed up different ideas: the impact of immigration in future generations, and mixing that up with who was British – and that was a mistake. I don’t know if I will receive a further written response to explain that.

Doesn’t sound like the sort of person I would normally agree with, but: well done Phil Woolas. Will check out the letters in the Mail tomorrow (not a sentence I write, well… ever)

From 1670 to 1710, between 40,000 and 50,000 Huguenots came to England The population was about 6,000,000. That would make it 1 in 12 ? For it to have been one in three during the same period 2,000,000 Huguenots would have to have popped in which would have meant more than few churches around Spitalfields.

How can that be right ?

9. The Davies

It’s a bit rich for Phil Woolas to lament the politicization of the ONS. Until it was given its independence the Government shamelessly manipulated the publication of figures to fit its own agenda.

Come on help here , do you think Woolass is talking about 10 in 3 of the population of London which was quite small at the time . That might be right , Threadneedle street and a couple more are named after Hugenot weavers but 2,000,000 of them . He is out of his tiny mind isn`t he ?

Newmania,

You note that what Woolas says, exactly, is at the time of the Hugenot migration, which suggests he’s referring to the period and not just the migration itself.

Going solely from memory here, in addition to the Hugenot’s themselves (amongst whom was one of my own ancestors), you also had the Jewish resettlement that followed Cromwell’s lifting of Edward I’s Edict of Expulsion in 1655-1680, the Triangular trade, a lot European protestants migrating to England as a staging point before going to the American colonies and the growth of Britain’s trading empire and the East India company.

So while 1 in 3 does sound high, I wouldn’t bet against it being possible at certain points during the period, even if it wasn’t a consistent figure over the whole period.

Always suspected you were a bloody foreigner Unity 🙂

Charlie, I am just looking for an expedient reason to cut down the size of government agencies 🙂

It’s worse than you think… the other side of my family ( the side that isn’t descended from the Hugenots) is originally from County Mayo.

Well while I can’t argue with anything Woolas actually said, for him to accuse others of fueling a “toxic debate” on immigration is a tad hypocritical to say the least.

hold on, he did say “highlights the toxic nature of this debate”, which doesn’t specifically deny that he’s fuelled it himself.

However on this occasion I too agree with every word Woolas has written. Given that I agree with most of what Huhne wrote earlier too I’m wondering if I’m ill without realising.

Newmania, if your comment at #8 is as I assume (but am not 100% certain of) deliberate self-parody, then for once I salute you.

County Mayo !!!

Well I am related to the Packenham family ( My Auntie Gwen looked it up)which is the Longford family and Harriet, devil queen, Harman`s father was a brother of Elizabeth Longford which makes her a distant relation of mine.
All of which shows you can triumph over your genes no matter how repulsive . I imagine the numbers immigrating to the US at times must have dwarfed the the population. They went with an Idea of being American though. That cannot be said of the Muslim population of this country for example . You see how a strong Nation is a good thing for immigrants . Why then seek to destroy it ?

That cannot be said of the Muslim population of this country for example

Yes it can. It can be said of many of them, especially the ones I’ve met since I moved to West Yorks.

Sure, there are some insularists who want to make little pakistan in their own little enclaves, but they’re definitely a minority.

But, y’know, as a south Devonian of ancient Dumnonian stock, I’m willing to bet that most of you are descended from a bunch of bloody immigrants that took over my country. The bloody Romans started it.

@Sunder. An actual apology? Wow.

It stuns me that Woolas has read Winder’s book and still supports the policies and expresses the views he does.

As for the ONS press department, there is a vicious cycle here of press prints rubbish, press department gives press rubbish to print. I’ll bet if you showed the press release to the people who actually work on the figures most of them would hit the roof.

The article relating to Sunder’s letter is now up on the Mail’s website:

http://www.mailonsunday.co.uk/news/article-1158958/Office-National-Statistics-publishing-sinister-figures-immigration.html

It’s by James Chapman and contains a quote from MigrationWatch. It ends on this note: “A spokesman for the ONS said: ‘We will not be responding to this letter.”

I see that the Mail does not, however, mention its own role in misreporting the foreign-born statistics, and compalining at the failure to count british-born citizens on immigrants, which is why I wrote to Woolas about this.

22. Charlieman

Sunny @ 1:
“Its outrageous if its true that the ONS are playing politics in such a way.

And I can’t believe but I’m agreeing with Phil Woolas for the first time.”

But this is easy to test. Phone up the ONS press office, and ask whether their recollection of the decision making process concurs with that of Phil Woolas. If they disagree, you have an even better story.

saying all this, it just has occurrd to me that Mr Woolas hasn’t actually answered the question: does he believe we are British or not? Just blaming the ONS isn’t enough really is it?

This is off topic, but I see Nick Robinson on the BBC is doing his best “I love Dave Cameron and the Tories” impression in the US. I wonder if he rings the Tory party to get his talking points from them.

Never mind Nick, only a another year to go, and then you can give Dave full on blowjobs live on the BBC . Odious little man.

The level of naivety on this site is unbelievable.

A Labour minister – a high ranking official of the same party who only a few months ago, over ruled the ONS to release a work of fiction regarding knife crime – is implying that the ONS is politically motivated in its releases is rich to say the least!

Firstly, the answer is not to blame the ONS. They just give the figures. It is commentators who normally use the figures to make a story. The blame here seems to lie elsewhere – mostly with New Labour for twisting the whole news agenda to wind up the electorate!

This is then twisted again by the likes of the Daily Mail – It helps sell papers to angry people for the two minute hate!

The daily mail is just mirroring what people want to be true – that is how papers work – its just a shame that a labour minister is cashing in on it by sitting on the fence and supporting both sites!!

“as a south Devonian of ancient Dumnonian stock”

Oooh yes, lets have a game of more-inbred-than-thou! I mean, although you’ll win by miles, it’ll be fun…

Pretty pathetic response. He suggests that the ONS, by publishing stats on the number of immigrants, are whipping up anti-foreigner sentiment, as if this is a given. In no sense does he challenge the proposition the substantial imimgration constitutes a social problem.

This reply from Woolas is one of the most frustrating things I’ve seen in ages.

For a start, he doesn’t actually answer any questions about who should be counted as British. Instead he ignores the entire point of Sunder’s letter (assuming it was mainly about his original letter to Paul Dacre) to make a political attack on the ONS, which rather undermines his accusations of the ONS politicising the figures.

More annoying than that is that he makes some good points and asks some good questions. Is immigration really best measured by counting the number of people who have been in the country for a year or more? Are there categories that should be counted out, since their stay is likely to be temporary? Is the current level of immigration as totally unprecedented as we’re led to believe?

But his attack on the ONS is misguided and clumsy. Just because these figures were released at a time that was politically embarrassing for the government doesn’t mean they were released to embarrass the govrnment politically. Karen Dunnell has to answer very similar questions about immigration over and over again and it’s entirely possible that she thought that bringing forward the publication of some figures that were going to be released anyway would save monotonous repetition. And, of course, she could have been deliberately making a political point. Focusing on motives means Woolas will never get the mature debate he says he wants.

Bleating about ‘the toxic nature of this debate’ while contributing to exactly that moves the focus away from the issues of who should be counted as British and how immigration should be measured to a stupid handbags-at-dawn scuffle that leaves nobody any the wiser.

1 in 3: 1670 is not that long after 1649. Population of Ireland at the time was ~1.5 million.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cromwellian_conquest_of_Ireland

Not sure that is a very helpful precedent, if that really is the source of the statistic..

In no sense does he challenge the proposition the substantial imimgration constitutes a social problem.

In what way?

You are British automatically if you are born in Britain. I think that was changed a bit – hell, even US forces kids were deemed as British because they were born here, even though they would have had US citizenship.

British citizenship by birth in the United Kingdom

Under the law in effect from 1 January 1983, a child born in the UK to a parent who is a British citizen or ‘settled’ in the UK is automatically a British citizen by birth.

* Only one parent needs to meet this requirement, either the father or the mother.
* “Settled” status in this context usually means the parent is resident in the United Kingdom and has the Right of Abode, holds Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), or is the citizen of an EU/EEA country and has permanent residence. Irish citizens in the UK are also deemed to be settled for this purpose.
* Special rules exist for cases where a parent of a child is a citizen of a European Union or European Economic Area member state, or Switzerland. The law in this respect was changed on 2 October 2000 and again on 30 April 2006. See below for details.
* For children born before 1 July 2006, if only the father meets this requirement, the parents must be married. Marriage subsequent to the birth is normally enough to confer British citizenship from that point.
* Where the father is not married to the mother, the Home Office will usually register the child as British provided an application is made and the child would have been British otherwise. The child must be aged under 18 on the date of application.
* Where a parent subsequently acquires British citizenship or “settled” status, the child can be registered as British provided he or she is still aged under 18.
* If the child lives in the UK until age 10 there is a lifetime entitlement to register as a British citizen. The immigration status of the child and his/her parents is irrelevant.
* Special provisions may apply for the child to acquire British citizenship if a parent is a British Overseas citizen or British subject, or if the child is stateless.

Before 1983, birth in the UK was sufficient in itself to confer British nationality irrespective of the status of parents, with an exception only for children of diplomats and enemy aliens. This exception did not apply to most visiting forces, so, in general, children born in the UK before 1983 to visiting military personnel (eg US forces stationed in the UK) are British citizens by birth.

There we go.

Then you have the British by descent stuff…

Thank Wiki for that.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_citizenship#British_citizenship_by_birth_in_the_United_Kingdom

32. hellblazer

I’ll add to several voices above who would like to know the ONS’ side of the story. I fail to see why Woolas saying “wasn’t me guv, you’re bang on, it’s them weirdo stats monkeys causing trouble again” is anything more than passing the buck.

None of it addresses the tacit idea in the Mail’s piece that

“… although the figures from the Government’s Office for National Statistics show an increase in numbers of foreign born people they still fail to record the true impact of immigration because they record their children as British rather than second or third generation immigrants.”

That’s because, as Will #32 points out, said children *are* British. Woolas’ bit of “yeah, mate, you tell ’em” cant doesn’t seem to give the Mail quote the kicking it richly deserves. He HASN”T ANSWERED THE F**KING QUESTION , so I think he should be pressed to answer it, rather than a *different* question which he seems happier with.

I have posted the text of my letter ot the Daily Mail, as published in today’s newspaper, on the original thread
http://www.liberalconspiracy.org/2009/02/25/so-who-does-the-mail-think-is-british/comment-page-2/#comment-36812

Meanwhile, the thing comes full cycle and Woolas’ comments to me are reported on page 2. (Not sure I want to be in the same edition of the Daily Mail twice too often)

On the ‘why hasn’t he answered the question’ point.

I think its just that he thinks its totally obvious that birth/descent isn’t citizenship, and that it is in his statement that “Surely the distinction between temporary residence and Indefinite Leave to Remain and full citizenship is more useful in framing a mature debate”, and his criticism on the focus on ‘foreign born’ at all (including, of course, foreign born Brits) as misleading, even before it was extended to descendants of the foreign born. (By the way, he also said “Many thanks. Brilliant” at the top of his email, re my Liberal Conspiracy letter to the Mail, above his comments for use). But, yes, he obviously saw the request for a comment as a chance to get his frustration with the ONS out and about and wanted to do that.

I chaired a Fabian seminar with Woolas and with Tim Finch of ippr in the morning last Wednesday.
He was very clear on these points. I hadn’t myself seen this Mail report until that evening, but the issue of Telegraph and Mail coverage of the foreign born stat that morning came up when a trade union partiipant argued it was out-of-date for the government to be producing ‘foreign born’ statistics about immigration. Woolas made the points there about how people needed to understand that wasn’t about immigration (temporary residence, students and the other points), though was on the issue of the ONS more about the point that they had made it the topline of a long press release, with a deliberate view to getting the story up. Inevitably, it would be misreported as an immigration finding. (The seminar was under Chatham House rules, with a wide range of voices – eg ourselves, ippr, TUC to migrationwatch, immigration lawyers, employers and employment agencies, skills providers and those working with the unemployed, etc)

Woolas also had an anecdote which I think can reasonably be repeated (not verbatim, but the gist of it from memory) about being given a tough time when returning to the UK by a youngish British Asian staff member at airport security – including scrutinising his ministerial red boxes very thoroughly, etc. They included the Bloody Foreigners book (and Woolas says he is not sure the irony of the title was immediately grasped, which added somewhat to an atmosphere of disapproval).

The exchange ended something like this.
Woolas: Well, now you know what we keep in the red boxes
official: Well, now you know what it feels like Minister.

If ever there was an archetype Labour politician, it must be Phil Woolas. From selective education to student politics to BBC news producer to union PR to politician. As a former climate change minister I wonder if he sees the link between Britain’s CO2 emissions, the depletion of resources and the predicted immigration led rise in our population of 10m?

As for the author of the thread, I think this says all we need to know: “I chaired a Fabian seminar with Woolas and with Tim Finch of ippr in the morning last Wednesday”

From the Times interview with Woolas: “He uses the example of the high level of unemployment among the Bangladeshi community in Britain, many of whom he believes could be retrained to fill a shortage of chefs”

What a liberal, eh? Maybe, all the unemployed people of West Indian descent could become bus drivers? What do stereotype profession do Somali have?

It is clear that he wants to reduce the number of immigrants. “It’s been too easy to get into this country in the past and it’s going to get harder,” he says. “As we stand we don’t know how many foreign nationals there are. I want to end up in a situation where we know and the public know how many people are coming in and going out of our country. This Government isn’t going to allow the population of this country to go up to 70 million. There has to be a balance between the number of people coming in and the number of people leaving.”

On the NHS: “It’s a national health service – it’s not an international health service”

He is also concerned about the number of marriages between first cousins in Indian and Pakistani families. “Anyone who knows my community knows there are higher proportions of physical disability amongst the children of first-cousin marriages. It’s a cultural issue. The morally right thing is to raise awareness of that. The risk of disability is 4.7 per cent – that’s double the average. If your grandparents were first cousins, too, it goes up to 52 per cent. I don’t say you shouldn’t marry your first cousin, I say if you do, be careful and be screened.”

He supports the principle of Muslim faith schools, although he insists “you have to use schools to help break down segregation. They should learn about all faiths – there shouldn’t be exclusive access. Children from other faiths should be allowed in.”

Woolas has kids and a multi-racial constituency. Anyone know if he practices what he preaches? Does he send his kids to one of the several muslim dominated schools in his constituency? Sunder can you ask him for us?

“The first Asian boy who joined my school was nicknamed Banana,” says the new Minister for Borders and Immigration. “The teachers called him Banana, the boys called him Banana. He even called himself Banana. I thought it was appalling.”

His last words are inspired by his old classmate. “I think it [the immigration system] has been too lenient and I want to make it harder, but I also want to be nice to people who do come to settle here. That’s what I have wanted to do all my life since the boy came to my school and was called Banana.”

There are too many intellectuals in this Govt!

I wonder if the boy got his name because of a play on his name? Just like Imre ‘banana’ Varadi. http://www.anorak.co.uk/sports/200782.html

Interestingly, that Mail link has now had its headline changed. It now reads ‘Immigration minister attacks statistics chiefs for publishing ‘sinister’ race numbers’ instead of ‘immigration numbers’ despite the fact that the numbers are immigration numbers, and don’t>measure anyone’s race.

You know when some people accuse the Mail of dog whistling with their immigration coverage? They’re right.

Sorry for the double post. Fixing crap html tags.

“The exchange ended something like this.
Woolas: Well, now you know what we keep in the red boxes
official: Well, now you know what it feels like Minister.”

I feel the official deserves a medal for this.


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  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    New post: Phil Woolas MP on who ‘is British’ http://tinyurl.com/aw2mxx

  2. links for 2009-03-03 « Embololalia

    […] Liberal Conspiracy » Statement from Phil Woolas MP on who ‘is British’ | creating a new liberal… The fact that 1 in 9 people who are in Britain (for over a year) were born overseas is neither new nor informative. It includes around 370,000 undergraduates who will not stay in this country as well as those British nationals born overseas including around a quarter of a million born to our armed forces personnel serving overseas. The figure of twelve months is arbitrary. Surely the distinction between temporary residence and Indefinite Leave to Remain and full citizenship is more useful in framing a mature debate. (tags: migration uk politics statistics) […]





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