Phil Woolas Attacks ONS For ‘Sinister’ Immigration Data Release

Phil Woolas attacks ONS for 'sinister' immigration data release

A minister has criticised the Office for National Statistics over the “sinister” release of immigration data, fuelling an increasingly bitter row between the Government and the independent body.

By Matthew Moore
The Telegraph
Last Updated: 1:55AM GMT 04 Mar 2009

Phil Woolas said that the ONS had been 'at best, naive' Photo: UPPA LTD

Phil Woolas, the immigration minister, yesterday accused the ONS of “playing politics” by publishing a press release highlighting figures that one in nine British residents was born abroad.

The official statistics released last week which showed that 6.5 million people born overseas were resident in the UK raised concerns about how the country's population had changed under Labour, creating damaging headlines for the Government.

Ministers were said to be furious about the release, which followed a very public row with the ONS about the publication of data showing that the number of immigrants getting jobs has increased as the British workforce has declined

In a letter to Sunder Katwala, head of the Fabian Society, Mr Woolas accused the ONS of helping foment xenophobia and denied that the Government had encouraged the publication of the residency data.

“In fact, it was the ONS with no ministerial involvement and indeed despite my objections,” he said.

“What's worse is that the press release highlighted the one in nine figure as the main finding.

“So, Government gets the blame by some for whipping up anti-foreign sentiment when it is the independent ONS who are playing politics.

“The justification from the ONS who had, out of schedule, highlighted the figure two weeks earlier because it was 'topical' is, at best, nave or, at worst, sinister.”

An ONS spokesman told the Daily Mail that it would not be responding to the letter, but last night Mr Woolas came under fire for challenging the freedom and independence of the national statistics body.

Sir Andrew Green of the Migration Watch think tank said: “It's extremely unfortunate if a minister gives an impression of bullying the official statisticians for doing no more than setting out the facts, however inconvenient they may be for the Government of the day.

“To imply that there is some sinister motive in simply telling the truth is astonishing.”


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