Immigrants in Britain have “the very conservative instinct” of wanting to better themselves and improve the lot of their families, Sir John Major has said.
In a marked contrast to David Cameron’s tough rhetoric on immigration, the former prime minister said it was wrong to suggest that immigrants merely travel to the UK “to benefit from our social security system”.
Drawing on his own experience of growing up alongside immigrants in Brixton, South London, Sir John said people needed to have “guts and drive” to travel to another country thousands of miles away to work.
“There was a different social value placed on immigration. I saw immigration at very close quarters in the 1950s,” he said in an interview with the historian Peter Hennessy for the BBC programme Reflections, due to be aired on Radio 4 tomorrow.
“They shared my house. They were my neighbours. I played with them as boys. I didn’t see people who had come here just to benefit from our social system. I saw people with guts and the drive to travel halfway across the world in many cases to better themselves and their families. And I think that is a very Conservative instinct.”
Mr Cameron has spearheaded the Government’s drive to reduce the number of immigrants coming into Britain. Last month he announced further changes to the system which he said would ensure the country was not seen as a “soft touch” for immigrants, who should not “expect to come to Britain and get something for nothing”.