Andrew Green: A very English way of stirring up fear of foreigners

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What a dash Sir Andrew Green is cutting. Handsome, patrician, intelligent, well-groomed in that impeccable, unmistakably English style, he has discovered the limelight late in life. Sir Andrew, 62, has been doing quite a lot of television this week, taking part in a Sky News special on immigration on Tuesday, and then popping up again the next evening, on the BBC's themed evening of programmes exploring asylum issues.

The man is extremely watchable, and entirely in command of his media performances. Claiming no political ambitions - for which Iain Duncan Smith can only be thankful - Sir Andrew is embracing the public platform as a concerned retired citizen. His concern is immigration and his retirement has been spent in setting up a pressure group, Migration Watch UK, that eponymously aims to watch UK immigration.

Keenly aware that he has placed himself at the centre of a highly emotive and combustible set of issues, Sir Andrew is never anything less than calm, shrewd and careful. When a television interviewer uses words such as "swamped" or "flooded" to describe the level of Britain's immigrant population, Sir Andrew looks vexed. He will calmly explain that floods and swamps are not useful places for the debate to wade into. It's not that Britain is flooded or swamped with immigrants, it's just that there are rather too many of them coming our way for us to be able to offer them the kind of hospitality we would like to, and still have resources left over for ourselves.

When asked if he feels concern that the sort of policies he is pushing for might leave Britain turning persecuted refugees away, he appears saddened. Sir Andrew is entirely in favour of Britain offering a safe haven to genuine asylum seekers. It's the economic migrants, the healthcare migrants, the bogus asylum seekers and the illegals he is concerned about, because crowded Britain is being crippled by the cost of such freeloaders. It is, he feels, important to make the distinction.

When asked if he is concerned that such views may be interpreted as racist, Sir Andrew looks pained. He feels it is wrong that sensible people, concerned only with the logistics of how a small scrap of land - the south-east of England - can possibly be expected to accommodate the number of people who wish to come and live there, are being silenced by this politically correct label.

When asked if he worries that such claims might send the voters rushing headlong into the arms of the British National Party, he is disdainful. He will calmly explain that his group exists to ensure that such a racist rabble should never claim the moral high ground in the debate.

Considering that Sir Andrew claims to be giving voice to opinions that have been ruthlessly repressed for decades, many of his tropes are oddly familiar. What is less familiar though, is the polished and articulate delivery, the effortless confidence and authority with which these tired arguments are presented as new, forthright, bold and radical.

Further, for little Englanders, Sir Andrew is a living embodiment of all they fear they could lose. Paradoxically though, the very fact of his existence, should instead be proof that quintessentially English culture is very much alive.

For Sir Andrew is so very English that his life reads like a novelistic cliché of the most admirably British sort. Born of an RAF Group Captain, he studied Arabic at Magdalene College, Cambridge, before taking up a short service commission with the Royal Green Jackets. From there, he entered the diplomatic service, serving in Lebanon, Aden, Abu Dhabi, Paris and Washington. He rose eventually to become ambassador to Syria from 1991-1994, Middle East director from 1994 to 1996, and ambassador to Saudi Arabia from then until his retirement in 2000. In Who's Who, his recreations are listed as "tennis, sailing, bridge and desert travel". It's all terribly TE Lawrence.

As if such a career was not impressive enough, Sir Andrew also sports some rather fine humanitarian credentials. He is chairman of Medical Aid for Palestinians, a charity that works towards improving health care in Palestine and in the refugee camps. He is also on the advisory board of the Sudan Peace Building programme, which promotes reconciliation among the divided, war-traumatised population.

He believes passionately that the developed world has an obligation to help and aid the undeveloped world, both morally and also because in this way the need for mass migration would be addressed at its roots. He is a board member, too, of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a human rights organisation that aims to represent Christians and others around the world who are suffering persecution for their beliefs.

In short, he is not a bad guy, and nor is he an entirely conventional thinker. Certainly his own political leanings are conservative, but with a hint of the maverick about them. He was sceptical about the war in Iraq, citing the resentment Arabs feel about the huge bias the US has towards Israel.

So, in some ways, his deeply conservative views about immigration seem out of kilter with his world view. His own explanation dates back to his time as Middle East director. He was asked in 1996 by the then Prime Minister, John Major, to work on moving some Islamic extremists out of Britain, particularly the dissident Saudi physicist Mohammed al-Massari, who was operating a campaign against the Saudi regime.

"I was under-secretary for the Middle East at the time, and I was trying to remove Islamic extremists like Massari from Britain," Sir Andrew told The Independent. "But, because of our asylum laws, I found I was unable to do so, despite having the support of the Prime Minister. This man Massari was seriously damaging British relations with Saudi Arabia, but my own staff could do nothing and my people in Riyadh were expressing concern about the weakness of our controls."

Actually, things aren't as simple as they appear. There was no good reason why the Foreign Office should have had the power to kick this man out of Britain simply because he was an irritant to a regime whose human rights record was well worth campaigning against. Further, Britain's own reasons for wanting to please the Saudi's weren't so very pure either. The British government's failure to deport Mr al-Massari was thought to be a threat to a Vickers contract to supply tanks to Saudi Arabia. The waters were further muddied by the fact that Sir Andrew had been a non-executive director of Vickers, a position he says was unpaid and part of a scheme to give senior civil servants business experience.

Undeterred by such legitimate concerns, Sir Andrew decided to continue looking into asylum. "When I retired, I started to look into it closely and I was, as we say in diplomatic parlance, surprised and concerned by what I found. I found immigration out of control, but I also saw there was not a healthy debate about the issue, that the information was not getting out to people. It is important in a democracy that people are shown the full facts, and I think from the response we have had to our findings that they were not getting them."

This information consists mainly of worst-case scenario estimates, compiled under the direction of Dr David Coleman, professor in demography at Oxford University. Sir Andrew made contact with Dr Coleman after reading some of his anti-immigration letters in The Times. Since they set up Migration Watch UK at the end of 2001, the men have been busily churning out headline-grabbing reports, claiming immigrants with Aids will cost the NHS £1bn and that immigration between now and 2025 will top 4.5 million - and so on.

But the great trouble with this constant flood of highly contentious figures, is that it does not do what Sir Andrew says he wants to do - promote debate. Instead, Migration Watch UK, despite its lofty claims, is working to further polarise it. While the Government's economic record, in the face of world-wide recession, attests that the recent record-breakingly high influx of foreign labour is doing an enormous amount to maintain a dynamic economy, Sir Andrew is against David Blunkett's and Gordon Brown's pet project of increasing the availability of work permits. These two, of course, want only to admit genuine asylum seekers and to debar illegal immigrants, just as Sir Andrew does.

Yet Sir Andrew argues that Britain should not be issuing work permits to foreigners while it still has long-term unemployed. When it is pointed out to him that many of these people won't work because they don't want to do low-paid, low-status jobs, he contends that if no one else was available, pay would have to be raised and the jobs would be taken. His logic is that the fewer the people, the bigger a slice of pie they get.

The truth is that a smaller number of people end up making smaller pies. With an ageing population, which would decline without immigration, Britain's pie, under Sir Andrew's recipe, would become small and mean indeed. And anyway, it is skilled workers who are getting work permits in Britain, a fact Sir Andrew is simply in denial about.

There is no doubt that Sir Andrew is reflecting and voicing a popular view. That is why his organisation has, in a couple of years, attained a visibility and influence far beyond any real contribution it has to make. Yet, despite his claims and beliefs, Migration Watch UK has nothing new to offer. His organisation's headlines may seem more authoritative than those of the "Asylum seekers barbecue swans" or "Saddam's family to settle in Liverpool" ilk. But the small print tells only of a fearful man, appealing to a fearful population and offering them no succour except the bitter poison of resentment.

If Sir Andrew got his way - which he won't as long as British companies keep on seeing the need to recruit foreign workers - the resentment would only grow. Sir Andrew may be enjoying a retirement spent in fomenting resentment. But if he had any understanding of the damage he was doing and really was the gentlemen he purports to be, he'd die of shame.


Born Andrew Green, 1941, to Group Captain JH Green of the RAF and his wife Beatrice Mary.

Family Married to C Jane Churchill; 2 children (one boy, one girl).

Education Haileybury and ISC; MA at Magdalene College Cambridge; served in Royal Green Jackets 1962-65.

Diplomatic career Joined HM Diplomatic Service, 1965; Assistant Political Agent, Abu Dhabi, 1970-71; First Secretary, FCO, 1972-74; Private Secretary to Minister of State, FCO, 1975, and to Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, 1976; First Secretary, UK Delegation to OECD, Paris, 1977-79; First Secretary, FCO, 1980-81; Counsellor, Washington, 1982-85; Counsellor, Head of Chancery and Consul General, Riyadh, 1985-88; Counsellor, FCO, 1988-90; Ambassador to Syria, 1991-94; Assistant Under-Secretary of State (Middle East), FCO, 1994-96; Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, 1996-2000.

Other Interests Chairman of Medical Aid for Palestinians; Member of Advisory Board of the Sudan Peace Building Programme; Board member of Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

He says "We have no political axes to grind. We simply believe that the public are entitled to know the facts, presented in a comprehensible form."

They say "It [Migration Watch UK] is a partisan pressure group, whose influence far exceeds its authority. Its sole objective is to fuel ill-informed public debate on migration by polarising the issue." - Leigh Daynes, of Refugee Action

"The BNP welcomes the creation of such an academic body [Migration Watch] which is long overdue. Such a study has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with common sense." - BNP website