Boris Johnson aide 'deeply regrets' immigration articles
Anthony Browne says newspaper pieces do not give a fair reflection of his views
Tuesday 16 December 2008 11.09 GMT
Boris Johnson's policy chief has apologised for newspaper articles he wrote that were critical of immigration.
Former journalist Anthony Browne, who once said third world immigrants brought “too many germs” into the country, wrote to the Labour chair of the London assembly, Jennette Arnold, to stress his credentials on diversity and race. His book, Do We Need Mass Immigration? is in the BNP's online gift shop, where it is described as a tract “blaming poverty, crime, TB and HIV on immigrants”.
Browne told Arnold in reply to a letter requesting “urgent clarity” on his views since joining Johnson's administration: “I do very much regret any offence caused by any past newspaper articles. It really never was my intention to cause offence, but to provoke debate. The articles, which I deeply regret writing, also don't give a fair reflection of my views. I want to make clear that I am emphatically not anti-immigration.”
Browne's appointment to Johnson's team, announced over the summer, raised eyebrows at the time because of hardline views he has expressed in the past. Previously a journalist for the BBC, Times and the Observer, Browne 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 Spectator was 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 included in his letter to Arnold a number of positive comments he has written on race and immigration, to point out that his more inflammatory fare of the past was just a “fraction” of the output published during a journalistic career spanning two decades.
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-page 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, 2005 and the spread of HIV.
Browne told Arnold: “Your concerns about me are understandable but misplaced. Accuse me of bad journalism, but not something that is not in my heart.”
He added: “I want to assure you that my policy advice to the mayor will be based on the following principles: support for diversity, opposition to racism and other forms of discrimination, support for immigrants and immigrant communities and support for equality of opportunity. I invite you to judge me by these standards, not by what I may have written some years in the past.”
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.