Immigrants coming into Britain must know English before they arrive, or should be enrolled in compulsory English classes. That’s the verdict of a group of MPs led by one of the Labour Party’s rising stars -- a sign that even the country’s left-wing is moving right on immigration in the wake of the decision to leave the European Union.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration, led by former Labour leadership candidate Chuka Umunna, published its report Thursday on the question of how to integrate the many migrants that have landed on the UK shores in recent years.
The report reflects scrambling by UK politicians to get serious on the subject of mass migration, which was a key motivator for many who voted for “Brexit” -- particularly in the northern and white working class areas.
The report acknowledges this, calling for a new approach to immigration “in the wake of the Brexit vote,” but instead of focusing on reducing numbers, the report highlights integration as the key problem faced in UK’s immigration policy.
“Brexit has been the wake-up call: globalization has not delivered for all and now more than ever, we need political leadership to prioritise integration in order to address the deep societal divisions that were exposed on June 23,” the report says.
Many of the report’s recommendations focus on the responsibilities of central and local government, recommending regionalizing immigration policy, and spending more money on integration methods and reducing fees for citizenship applications. However, the report also demands that immigrants coming to the UK speak English.
“All immigrants should be expected to have either learned English before coming to the UK or be enrolled in compulsory ESOL [English for Speakers of Other Languages] classes upon arrival,” the report says.
It also cites approvingly the Belgian method, by which new immigrants are encouraged to build up a social network, get to know their local town or community and take up voluntary work.
“It’s clear that immigration has impacted on different communities in different ways and the pace of change has alarmed many,” Umunna said ahead of the report’s release. “The Government has a duty to address the lack of integration of immigrants if it is to address this. Failing to do so has left a vacuum for extremists and peddlers of hate to exploit.”
Immigration has been a thorny issue for UK politicians for some years now, with both the Labour Party and the ruling Conservative Party criticized for not having brought immigration numbers under control. Former Prime Minister David Cameron campaigned in 2010 on reducing immigration to below 100,000 each year -- and failed to meet the target. Instead, annual numbers jumped to over 300,000 while he was in power.
Additionally, his failure to successfully renegotiate control over Britain’s border policy from the EU -- particularly on the question of how long EU migrants have to wait before being able to claim welfare benefits -- wounded Cameron in the lead-up to the referendum and led many voters to conclude that the only way to get immigration under control was to leave the trading bloc.
The report is a sign that moderate Labour MPs like Umunna are responding to concerns among Brexit voter, many of whom are based in Labour-controlled areas, about immigration.
However, immigration hardliners attacked the report as too little too late. The populist UK Independence Party dismissed the report, saying that integration efforts without cutting the number of migrants into the country was “meaningless.”
"The report is also an admission that uncontrolled immigration is a problem but there is no apology to the British people from the liberal establishment for presiding over and encouraging it,” spokesman John Bickley said in a statement. “Likewise, it’s a bit rich for that same political establishment, who have overseen and approved mass uncontrolled immigration to be attempting to close the gate after the horse has bolted.”
In December, a government report warned about the “unprecedented pace and scale” of recent immigration and suggested new migrants be made to pledge an oath of integration, amid fears many Muslim immigrants do not identify themselves as being British.