Patrick Wintour – The Guardian October 21, 2008
Phil Woolas, the new immigration minister, yesterday admitted the government had lost the trust of people over immigration because they did not know who was leaving and coming into the country.
He also suggested that some multi-cultural policies had the effect of "leaving communities isolated from one another to the mutual dissatisfaction of everyone". (Exactly as intended – effectively to divide and rule. Ed.)
Speaking at an event with the Dutch justice minister Nebahat Albayrak, he said his main political goal was to try to replicate the debate held in the Netherlands over the proper role of migration.
A matter of days into his new role, Woolas took personal responsibility for clearing the backlog of asylum cases.
He said: "Our failure to resource the asylum processes has caused untold human misery and division within our communities.
"My attitude to this issue is I am going to clear the backlog because it is the right thing to do morally for asylum seekers and the right thing to do for the country as a whole.
Woolas criticised the Government's record of managing migration, but said later his criticisms applied as much to Tory governments, and said the Home Office was currently "very much fit for purpose".
But he added: "I do accept that the Government didn't provide the framework of policy that anticipated the problems well enough."
In a weekend interview he backed the idea of a "balance" between the numbers coming in and those going out, later suggesting people had been "confused" by his statement and denying he had promised a 70 million population cap in Britain.
Yesterday he appeared to reject calls for an annual cap on migration, partly because Britain has to allow the free movement of workers within the EU. The Tories, supporters of an annual limit, are staging a debate on immigration in the Commons today in a bid to pin down whether Woolas is shifting policy.
He said: "We are, in this country, completely screwed up because we are asked the question about the cap without understanding what the question means."
The shadow home secretary, Dominic Grieve, said: "We welcome this admission by the minister. But the public will be sceptical that the Government which spent 11 years building up this problem is the right one to solve it.
"So far all we have had in the last few days is an exercise in kite flying - resulting in the minister tying himself up in knots. The public will judge the Government on its actions over 11 years, not its 24-hour spin operation."
Woolas said the purpose of a points-based system was "to limit by qualification, hurdle or duration the number of people that come to work here".
He also made the startling admission that people had been right to think governments had not known what was going on over immigration.
"A prerequisite in my opinion is to provide the confidence for society that the authorities, including the government, know what they are doing because, just like in the Netherlands, people did not believe the authorities knew what they were doing. There was a very good reason for that. It is because we didn't - that is the reason.
"If you cannot have border controls that you can count people in and count people out the country ... if you cannot have that proper system, then you cannot carry the confidence of people with you, and if you do not carry the confidence of the people then you cannot tell the immigrant to integrate into society. It is that vicious circle that we have got to break"
Last updated 24/10/2008