The UK’s Shadow Immigration Minister, Chris Bryant, has admitted that the previous Labour Government “made mistakes” on immigration, by allowing too many EU workers into the country through an open door policy, and then being too slow to introduce a points system.
In a major speech made yesterday, the Minister was forced to backtrack on original plans to blame retail giants, such as Tesco and Next, for allowing too many foreign workers to assume low-skilled positions, and instead criticised his own party’s past approach to immigration.
“Labour made mistakes on immigration,” Bryant admitted. “When we came to power in 1997 we had to tackle the complete chaos in the asylum system, when just 50 members of staff were dealing with 71,000 asylum applications every year.
“Labour created the position of Immigration Minister to bring real focus to these issues right across government. But although we were right to introduce the points based system in 2008, we should have done that far earlier.”
The Minister continued: “And when the new A8 countries joined the EU [Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia in 2004], we were so focused on economic growth that when Germany, France and Italy all put in transitional controls on new EU workers, we went it alone.
“The result? A far higher number of people came to work here.”
Figures show that around 3.4 million immigrants arrived to live in the UK from other UK countries between 1997 and 2010 – although suggestions have been made recently that this number may have been undercounted by more than half a million.
Bryant’s plans to criticise Tesco and Next for attempting to appeal to overseas workers had to be removed after it emerged that a number of the points he had planned to make – such as Tesco moving a distribution centre from Harlow in Essex to Kent, where a large percentage of the staff are from the eastern bloc – were found to be false. The supermarket chain does not have a distribution centre in Kent.
“I fully accept that Next and Tesco indeed often go the extra mile to try and recruit more local workers,” the Minister said, instead.