Johnson policy chief asked to 'clarify' views on immigration
Anthony Browne, who once blamed immigrants for bringing 'too many germs' into the UK, is under pressure over his hardline views
Monday December 1 2008 17.42 GMT
Boris Johnson's policy chief Anthony Browne, today came under pressure to “clarify” his position on race, equality and immigration, following controversial comments he aired prior to joining the Conservative mayor's city hall administration.
Labour assembly member Jenette Arnold wrote to Browne to request “urgent clarity” on his views in light of articles penned during his journalistic career.
In one, he blamed third world immigrants for bringing “too many germs” into the country.
Browne, a former journalist for the BBC, Times and the Observer, has contributed a wide range of papers on immigration for centre-right thinktanks as well as the rightwing political magazine the Spectator, in which he wrote five years ago that Britain was already overcrowded and that pro-immigration arguments are almost all flawed.
His editor at the time was Boris Johnson, now Conservative mayor, who is spearheading the debate on an amnesty for an estimated 400,000 long standing illegal immigrants residing in London, with Browne's full support.
Browne's appointment to Johnson's team, announced over the summer, raised eyebrows at the time because of his hardline views.
His book, “Do We Need Mass Immigration” graces the BNP's online gift shop, where it is described as a tract “blaming poverty, crime, TB and HIV on immigrants.”
Browne started his new 124,364 role as director of policy to the Conservative mayor, who has a duty to promote community cohesion in the capital, in October.
He is responsible for economic policy and business development.
Arnold, herself an immigrant, took issue with Browne's past in a letter dispatched today: “In the eyes of Londoners and beyond, you now speak for the mayor who in turn speaks for the city to the world,” Arnold wrote.
“It is essential that we have absolute clarification of where you stand on the important issues of race, equality and immigration. I do not believe it is good enough to say you were a journalist then and you are a policy director now; you are still the same person.”
Arnold sent the letter after being incensed at comments made by Browne last week, in which he sought to dismiss previous claims he had made on immigration as nothing more than attention seeking.
Browne, who went on to head the influential centre right thinktank Policy Exchange last year, told the London assembly's business and management administration committee he had gone “through a phase of being deliberately provocative” after Labour assembly members challenged him on comments made in a Spectator article in which he said that “killer diseases ” were being imported by those coming into Britain from “poorer countries”.
In an article entitled 'How the government endangers British lives', Browne wrote in 2003 that “it is not through letting in terrorists that the government's policy of mass migration especially from the third world will claim the most lives. It is through letting in too many germs.”
He added: “Britain is, in some respects, rapidly becoming one of the world's most diseased countries. Last year, African immigration overtook gay sex as the main cause of HIV in Britain, and a quarter of all those being treated by the NHS for HIV are now African immigrants.”
Browne also wrote a 100 paged pamphlet for thinktank Civitas in 2006 in which he described political correctness as “soft totalitarianism” and suggested it was to blame among other things for the bomb attacks on London on 7 July, and the spread of HIV.
Insisting he was “socially liberal”, Browne, who is married to an immigrant, told the cross party panel last week: “You shouldn't judge a journalist when they're being deliberately contrary and getting attention for themselves.”
Pressed on whether he regretted his comments on immigration, Browne said:
“There are lots of things we have written I certainly would not write [now]. There are a lot of things that I regret, that I wish I could unwrite but I cannot… my life is full of regrets,” he quipped, ” I have changed roles.”
Describing himself in jest as a “recovering journalist”, Browne stressed that he was fully in support of Johnson's efforts to begin a dialogue on the merits of an amnesty for illegal immigrants.
He told the assembly panel that the London's economy and culture “would be a fair less interesting place then it is now without immigration”.
But his assurances failed to satisfy Arnold, who today asked him to provide urgent “clarity” on whether his views on immigrations “have indeed changed from your days as a journalist.”
“I didn't get any indication from your committee appearance that you appreciate the hurt and distress your words have caused, particularly to London's immigrant communities,” wrote Arnold.
A city hall spokeswoman issued a statement, which said:
“As director of a prominent thinktank and distinguished journalist, Anthony Browne has always tried to promote free thinking and debate. At times his views caused controversy, but his aim was never to cause offence.
“Selected quotes taken out of context misrepresent his position. He has, for example enthused about the benefits of immigration, called for an open-border agreement with Japan and South Korea, made the case for the ultimate removal of all border controls between countries and argued for an amnesty for illegal immigrants.”