David Cameron will today make the provocative claim that communities across Britain are being damaged by the record levels of immigration of the last decade.
He will accuse some new arrivals of not wanting to integrate with their neighbours, leaving some areas suffering "discomfort and disjointedness" following dramatic population shifts. He will also risk accusations that he is inflaming tensions over race in a local council elections campaign speech asserting that immigration has been too high for too long.
But an unrepentant Mr Cameron will insist he is right to speak out on an issue that concerns millions of people – and accuse the last Labour government of fuelling support for the British National Party by refusing to address popular concerns on the subject. Mr Cameron will declare: "I want to get the policy right: good immigration, not mass immigration."
Although he will stress that immigration has benefited the country immeasurably, he will sound the alarm over the net migration of 2.2 million people to the UK between 1997 and 2009. "That is the largest influx of people Britain has ever had and it has placed real pressures on communities up and down the country. Not just pressures on schools, housing and healthcare, though those have been serious, but social pressures, too."
He will say that real communities are bound by "common experiences, forged by friendship and conversation, knitted together by all the rituals of the neighbourhood, from the school-run to the chat down the pub".
He will add: "These bonds can take time, so real integration takes time. That's why, when there have been significant numbers of new people arriving in neighbourhoods – perhaps not able to speak the same language as those living there, on occasions not really wanting or even willing to integrate – that has created a kind of discomfort and disjointedness in some neighbourhoods.
"This has been the experience for many people in our country – and I believe it is untruthful and unfair not to speak about it and address it."
His comments, the tone of which could dismay some Liberal Democrat ministers, mark Mr Cameron's second recent foray into sensitive waters. In February he delivered a scathing denunciation of 30 years of multiculturalism in Britain, warning it was directly contributing to home-grown Islamic terrorism.
He faced anger from Muslim groups for "patronising" them and was accused of playing into the hands of extremists by delivering that speech on the same day that the English Defence League staged a major show of strength in Luton.
But Mr Cameron will return to the "hugely emotive" subject today, accusing some Labour ministers of trying to close down discussion of immigration, while others "talked tough" but did nothing to bring numbers down.
He will say: "This approach had damaging consequences in terms of controlling immigration, but also in terms of public debate. It created the space for extremist parties to flourish, as they could tell people that mainstream politicians weren't listening to their concerns or doing anything about them."
Speaking in Hampshire, he will argue "controlling immigration and bringing it down" is vitally important to Britain's future. He will maintain that a series of measures, including an annual cap on skilled non-European migrants, new action on "sham marriages" and a crackdown on bogus colleges aimed at foreign students, are already having an impact.
Mr Cameron will dismiss the argument that immigrants are essential for undertaking the jobs that British workers do not want to accept. "Migrants are filling gaps in the labour market left wide open by a welfare system that for years has paid British people not to work. That is where the blame lies – at the door of our woeful welfare system and the last government who comprehensively failed to reform it."
Mr Cameron will say that the UK Border Agency is close to clearing the backlog of almost 500,000 asylum cases. And he will hail two recent nationwide campaigns targeting illegal migrants that have resulted in 1,400 arrests, 330 prosecutions and 260 removals. He will argue that the Government's plans will cut immigration substantially.
"We said we would listen to people's concerns and get immigration under control. Today I can confidently say we are getting there. If we take the steps set out today, and deal with all the different avenues of migration, legal and illegal, then levels of immigration can return to where they were in the 1980s and 90s, a time when immigration was not a front-rank political issue. And I believe that will mean net migration to this country will be in the order of tens of thousands each year, not the hundreds of thousands every year that we have seen over the last decade."Reuse content