UK opposition leader says immigration is 'too high'

The leader of the United Kingdom's Labour Party Ed Miliband has given an interview to the BBC's lunchtime news programme The World at One. In an interview on Thursday 4th October 2012, the opposition leader told BBC journalist Martha Kearney that he thought that immigration into the UK, particularly low-skilled immigration was 'too high'.

Mr Miliband was a member of the last Labour government which was voted out in 2010. He has previously admitted that that government did not do enough to address public concerns on immigration. Census records suggest that there was net inward immigration of 3.2 million people during the 13 years of the last Labour administration. Some of that immigration comprises people who came from Central and Eastern European countries that joined the European Union in 2004; Poland, Hungary, The Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

Because there is a single labour market in Europe, a citizen of an EU country can in general work easily in another EU Country. However, EU countries were entitled to place temporary restrictions on immigration from the new member states that joined in 2004. Most existing European member states put suchBulgaria controls in place. In particular, France and Germany did so. However, the Labour government of the UK did not do so. It said that such controls were not necessary and said that it had estimated that only 13,000 Eastern Europeans would come to Britain each year. Over 250,000 came in 2010 alone. Official estimates suggest that there are now approximately 775,000 eastern Europeans resident in the UK. The Labour government was criticised for this failure to limit their numbers in 2004. When Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007, the UK put restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian citizens working in the UK.

Mr Miliband said that he was concerned about immigration but said that the coalition's policy of attempting to put a cap on immigrant numbers would not work. He said that most immigration came from within the European Union and that the government had no control over that because of the free movement of labour throughout the EU.

Mr Miliband said that it was important to ensure that, when people came to the country, they came in a way that delivered economic benefits for all rather than in a way that saw immigrants undercutting people in the UK by working for less.

He said that he was now 'less sanguine' that he had been when he was in government 'about the effects when people come in. If there is an open Europe, we must have the highest standards at work.' Mr Miliband said that jt would be necessary to police firms to ensure that unscrupulous employers did not pay low-skilled immigrants less than the minimum wage and to ensure that gangmasters did not exploit immigrants on building sites.

Ms Kearney pressed Mr Miliband to say whether he thought immigration was 'at a good level'. Mr Miliband said 'in terms of low-skilled migration, it is too high and I want to do something about it.'

On 3rd October 2012, Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, told the Labour Party Conference that the government should take 'much stronger action' on illegal immigration.

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