Morrissey has made an unexpected and to some of his fans a thoroughly unwelcome contribution to Britain's loaded immigration debate. The musician has delivered a swingeing attack on what he perceives to be Britain's encroaching multiculturalism and the loss of national identity.
"England is a memory now," he says, in an interview with the NME published yesterday. "The gates are flooded and anybody can have access to England and join in."
He goes on: "Although I don't have anything against people from other countries, the higher the influx into England the more the British identity disappears. So the price is enormous. Travel to England and you have no idea where you are. It matters because the British identity is very attractive. I grew up into it and I find it very quaint and amusing. Other countries have held on to their basic identity, yet it seems to me that England was thrown away.
"You can't say, 'Everybody come into my house, sit on the bed, have what you like, do what you like.' It wouldn't work."
Morrissey, 48, whose parents were Irish Catholic immigrants to Manchester, left Dublin a decade ago to set up home in Los Angeles. He now lives in Rome. He denied his remarks could be interpreted as being racist or xenophobic. "Whatever England is now, it's not what it was and it's lamentable that we've lost so much," he said.
Morrissey's manager, Merck Mercuriadis, called in the lawyers and threatened the NME editor, Conor McNicholas, with court action. Ahead of publication, he accused the NME of a "hatchet job". Mr McNicholas received a letter explaining that Morrissey was "extremely concerned that the article will be defamatory of him, in particular carrying expressly or by imputation the false assertion that our client is a racist or holds racist views".
Mr Mercuriadis accused the NME of trying "to create controversy to boost circulation at the expense of Morrissey's integrity".
It is not the first time that Morrissey has fallen out with the music industry bible. The NME has questioned his lyrics in songs such as the "National Front Disco", and in 1992, it accused him of flirting with racist imagery following a concert at Finsbury Park in which he appeared draped in a Union flag when there were reportedly National Front supporters in the crowd.
A spokeswoman for the NME said it stood by its story and awaited a writ. "We haven't done anything to make the interview read in a more inflammatory way," she said.