Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Tip of the iceberg

In the Telegraph today is an account of a bizarre incident in "a sleepy English village", where police and demolition men went "into battle" at a village villa housing hundreds of immigrant workers.

According to the Telegraph, the "battle" played out in Gosberton, near Spalding, Lincs, as council workers sought to demolish an illegal extension to a building used as a workers' hostel.

We are told that neighbouring residents awoke to Greek music blaring from a the "Mediterranean-style villa" as police and demolition contractors became involved in a stand-off the workers. Officers had a high-pressure water hose turned on them as they attempted to force entry through a makeshift barricade of wooden pallets.

Two arrests were made, including Alan Garrard, the gangmaster, who had developed the property for the past eight months from a two-up two-down house, without permission.

In the end, the confrontation was resolved relatively peacefully when a local Methodist minister, the Rev Maurice Perry, decided to walk into the property and negotiate. Twenty-seven Lithuanians and Latvians were then allowed to leave with their meagre possessions in suitcases, holdalls and bin liners.

All were processed by immigration officials and found to be legally entitled to work in Britain, but not to public funds, whence they were offered temporary accommodation in the village hall.

By coincidence, last night I was in the Lincolnshire town of Boston, not a million miles away from Gosberton, ostensibly to give a talk on behalf of the Bruges Group and the EU’s involvement in fishing and agriculture. And while the talk was well-received by the audience, before and afterwards, the most heated discussion was about one subject – immigration.

In a town of some 40,000 souls, Boston over the last few years has suffered the influx of an estimated 10,000 migrants, nearly all of EU member states, with high proportions of Greeks, Portuguese, Poles and Latvians.

Areas of the town are described as "no-go" areas, shops have signs which ask that no more than three workers enter at any one time – in an effort to curb the epidemic of shoplifting - and one pub even sports a "no English" sign in an attempt to stave off the violent disputes which are erupting between the indigenous population and the incomers.

No one I talked to would describe themselves as “racist”, the view most often being expressed that in a small town, such a huge influx of people – many of whom could not speak English – was simply too much to absorb.

What infuriated many was that the migrants seemed to be "above the law". Fishermen told me how, squeezed by increasingly restrictive measures, they were driven to harvesting mussels, whence their licenses and procedures were rigorously inspected by the growing ranks of officials, while migrant workers doing the same job seemed to be ignored by officialdom.

There was considerable bitterness that the problems of the community seemed to be ignored by "London", not least that there seemed to be absolutely no attempt at controlling or managing the influx, and the people I talked to were fully aware that this resulted from our membership of the EU, and the opening of our borders to all-comers.

Inevitably, I was speaking to a small and not necessarily representative sample of the local population, but the strength of opinion and sheer hostility surprised me.

However, while the main parties are beginning to allow “immigration” on to the agenda, none of them are addressing the issue of migrants from EU member states – and that seems to be the problem in these rural communities. It seems to me, therefore, that, come the general election, they could be in for a bit of a shock. Gosberton could be the tip of an iceberg.

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