Lord Bilimoria was a guest on Sky News’ flagship ‘Murnaghan’ programme on Sunday 2nd November, where he was interviewed about the positive aspects of immigration following a recent study by UCL about British attitudes towards migrants from various EU and non-EU nations.
He was joined by the Bulgarian Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Konstantin Dimitrov, and Labour MP Barbara Roche, the former Immigration Minister.
The following transcript was kindly provided by Sky News.
DERMOT MURNAGHAN: Well immigration is one of the most divisive issues in politics at the moment but does our opinion of immigrants change depending on what country people come from to the UK? Well a poll for this programme suggests that of course it does. In the exclusive YouGov poll carried out for this programme people were asked ‘Do you think that immigrants from each of the following countries make a positive or negative contribution to life in Britain today?’ Well Australia, the United States and Germany came out top, at least 50% of people think they do make a positive contribution, immigrants from India and Poland also did pretty well coming out at 44% but the figure was much lower for immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania, just 18% of people think they make a positive contribution to life in Britain and in fact more people think they actually have a negative impact. So why is that? Well I am joined now by Bulgaria’s Ambassador to the UK, Konstatin Dimitrov, by the Labour MP Barbara Roche who is a former immigration minister and chair of the campaign group, the Migration Matters Trust and by Lord Bilimoria, an Indian born British businessman of course who is chairman amongst other things of Cobra Beer, a very good morning to you all. Well Ambassador I want to start with you, first of all your reaction to that poll in that your countrymen and women when they come to the UK, they aren’t really rated very highly?
KONSTANTIN DIMITROV: Yes, I’m not surprised, it’s a combination of the brutal anti-Bulgarian propaganda for years now by certain politicians and media whose name I will not mention for obvious reason and the second point, a simple lack of personal knowledge of Bulgarians by many Brits. Why? Because there are only about 60,000 Bulgarians working in the UK in a population of 64 million so there is a very low chance for anyone to have met a Bulgarian or worked with a Bulgarian person and moreover, one other thing, it is exactly in places where there are no Bulgarians that people are very much prejudiced against Bulgarians unlike centres of mixed communities where Bulgarians are seen as very …
DM: You just tell us, I know you’ve told me before, that the majority of Bulgarians who come to the UK come here to get jobs and when the jobs disappear or when they have worked long enough, they go back to Bulgaria.
KONSTANTIN DIMITROV: Exactly, just 1080 people have been registered to receive substantial work benefits in the UK last year, imagine, 1080 people, that’s absolutely negligible. Our compatriots are primarily between 18 and 35 years of age, single and they come here to work primarily as a result of an a priori agreed upon contract.
DM: Barbara, you come in to this, clearly there are different perceptions of different nationalities here, do you think we need some cool heads when it comes to discussing this issue, in particularly migration from within the European Union?
BARBARA ROCHE: Oh absolutely, I absolutely agree with what the Ambassador has had to say and indeed when I was a Member of Parliament and now in my role as Chair of Migration Matters, that’s what we actually try and argue. We just need to look at the facts and I also think it’s time that all political parties know and say what’s in their heart of hearts, that actually legal migration can be a very positive good for this country both in our public services and for our economy so the more we know the facts, the better.
DM: Do you think there is any point trying or should we not even try at all to limit migration from within the European Union and in particular underlying these figures, these findings we’ve got in particular to restrict Bulgarians, Romanians and a lot of East Europeans?
BARBARA ROCHE: I think the difficulty is that when we talk about this, and I am somebody who actually does believe in freedom of movement within the European Union, I think it is one of the fundamental tenets. I remember one of my very first votes as a young woman was to vote for Britain to actually stay in the Union and not only is freedom of movement a good thing but we actually don’t often discuss the fact that there are very many British people who are working elsewhere in the European Union, particularly young people, and they value their freedom of movement and we would lose that.
DM: Lord Bilimoria, you come in, are you heartened by the fact – and this then begs the question, is it just a matter of time of the indigenous population so to speak getting to know the immigrant population – India is pretty popular, it features up there along with the Poles coming in at 44% approval?
LORD BILIMORIA: Well that doesn’t surprise me at all and I am relieved to hear that the Indian community is being appreciated for the contribution that it has made for decades to this economy and I would think this immigration debate has become so dangerous now particularly driven by UKIP, where everyone is being tarred with the same brush and you don’t look at the good immigration that has helped this country become great. I mean look at Bulgaria, I know a very, very impressive young Bulgarian banker who works for the Queen’s bank who is highly impressive, you’d want somebody like that in this country. We look at countries on this league table that you have just put up, you’ve missed out Bangladesh. This evening I am going to be speaking at the Bangladesh Caterers Association annual awards dinner, over 1000 Bangladeshi restaurateurs from around the country, they are the ones – over two-thirds of restaurants are owned by Bangladeshis – they are the ones who actually brought curry to our homes, we love that food and yet they can’t bring in the skilled chefs that they need. Look at Tata who own Jaguar Land Rover, a company six years ago nobody wanted to buy, now it is so successful. Who is the Chief Executive of Tata Jaguar Land Rover in this country? A German, Ralf Speth.
DM: Just to stay with this, Lord Bilimoria, do you think it is some of the perceptions and misperceptions if I can coin that phrase, that go around especially this idea that the vast majority of immigrants some people think come here to claim benefits, to sponge off society. When people get to know for instance the South Asian community, let’s lump them all together, they are very hard working, there is a lot of productivity going on there.
LORD BILIMORIA: Hard work, family values, education. Look at foreign students, we still include international students in our immigration figures and the government has got this ridiculous target and one of the biggest mistakes that David Cameron has made is to put up this target of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands. They are more than double that figure, they are never going to hit that figure. I think that was a huge mistake to make and they are paying the price for that right now.
DM: Ambassador, what do Bulgarians, your nationals who come along to you, what do they tell you about the way they are treated by the UK population because there is that classic case where you might answer a survey like ours and say I am not very keen on Bulgarians and Romanians and others but when you actually have met someone or worked alongside one of them as you mentioned, you think they are okay.
KONSTANTIN DIMITROV: I would revert back to the last point I made, those who have worked with Bulgarians are very open and many Brits, 400,000 Brits a year go to Bulgaria to spend their time there, to have their holidays there, to even buy properties there. If there is some inborn antipathy no one would do that. The problem is those who are objects of propaganda and indeed those who haven’t met any Bulgarians at all, statistically these are quite convincing parameters as only 60,000 people in your country out of a country of 64 million, how could you possibly have an idea as to the contribution of such a small batch of people to your economy or to the texture of your society?
LORD BILIMORIA: And if you look at it, the other point is if you ask Theresa May, tell me the number of illegal immigrants in this country she wouldn’t have a clue, her department wouldn’t have a clue. They don’t know whether it’s half a million, a million, a million and a half because we have lost control of immigration in that sense. We still don’t have exit checks at our borders. We would have a queue of Indian IT companies ready to do that job so that we can scan everyone’s passport when they come from wherever in the world, scan everyone’s passport when they have gone and then we would know who shouldn’t be here who are still here. We should be attracting the best and the brightest people to this country.
DM: Barbara Roche, there is an absolute numbers argument going on here as well. If you get net migration of 250,000, just do the maths, over 20 years you end up with millions more people here and whatever nation they come from it just means that particularly public services are put under enormous strain.
BARBARA ROCHE: You have to look at it two ways, first of all it is absolutely right that countries, and we need to control our borders and certainly when I was the Immigration Minister that was a tenet.
DM: But how would you stop it?
BARBARA ROCHE: Well what you have to do first of all is also to acknowledge that people come and people go, we live in a global world and …
DM: But you just said that you don’t support stopping Europeans coming in and they are the vast majority of migrants so how do you control your borders?
BARBARA ROCHE: I actually think, I want to go back to the question that you asked about public services, you were talking about the strain on public services. What the figures show and what the OECD says is that actually migrants contribute more to public services than they take out. I think it is estimated that nearly 40% of our doctors, nearly 40% are migrants so the question is, are we asking the right questions about the effects on our public services? If we stopped migration tomorrow our public services would be worse and our debt would be worse and I also would say if you stopped migration here, what is going to happen to all those people who want their holidays [inaudible] … the European Union?
DM: Okay, quick thoughts on that Ambassador, I know you want to come in on that.
KONSTANTIN DIMITROV: That is right and also let us face a truth, outsiders, foreigners, come to work here because there are niches that the Brits wouldn’t like to take up, they wouldn’t like to go to the agricultural sector because there is no interest in such positions so of course legally our working citizens of the European Union will continue to come here to fill in the niches which are not wanted for other reasons by the Brits. If the Brits started filling those niches in, there would be no need for such immigration as we talk about.
DM: So market forces can deal with it. Last point to you Lord Bilimoria.
LORD BILIMORIA: Well I think it’s across the board. It’s what the Ambassador has just spoken about but also I mentioned the Chief Executive of Jaguar Land Rover, my joint venture partners at Cobra Molson Coors, we had a worldwide search for our UK chief executive, who is he? A Belgian. We want the brightest and the best across the board, from the Commonwealth, from the European Union and the biggest advantage of this country is that we are an open economy and that’s why we are still number two, number two inward investment country in the world today is this tiny country.
DM: Oh well pointed out, I didn’t know that. Listen, I must end it there, thank you very much to you Lord Bilimoria, good to see you, Konstantin Dimitrov, Ambassador and Barbara Roche, thank you very much indeed.