Alan Johnson attacked by own border staff over Britain's lax immigration
By James Slack
The Daily Mail
Last updated at 4:31 PM on 10th February 2010
Alan Johnson was harangued by one of his own border staff today over the lax state of Britain's border controls.
Immigration officer Lisa Lea took the Home Secretary to task after he made a major speech in which he admitted the Government had been guilty of 'failures' over immigration policy.
In front of a packed London lecture theatre, she told Mr Johnson the Home Office's new system for dealing with applications from non-EU students was a 'waste of time'.
Ms Lea, who works at Heathrow Airport, complained that officials had been stripped of their powers to interview and reject immigrants who they think are coming here to work.
Alan Johnson was attacked by immigration officer Lisa Lea on the UK's immigration policy in front of a packed lecture theatre
She added: 'Why are we not interviewing prospective students? The simplest way to establish whether someone is an economic migrant or otherwise is to bring them in and have a chat with them, as used to happen, and give the entry clearance officer the right to refuse them on the basis of credibility – which doesn't happen any more.'
The student visa system has been widely abused by economic migrants and even terrorists in recent years – with more than 1.5million applications being approved in the past eight years.
Mr Johnson has just announced the Government's latest crack down on the regime, including a requirement students must speak reasonable English.
Mr Johnson defended the new rules, and said the old system 'wasn't foolproof'.
It came at the end of a speech in which the Home Secretary accused Tory leader David Cameron of 'dog whistle' politics and described him as a “snake-oil salesman”.
The independent Office for National Statistics, which has consistently predicted the population hitting 70million within the next two decades, also came under fresh fire.
Mr Johnson said: 'The 70 million population figure produced by the Office of National Statistics has become a totem before which all politicians are expected to prostrate themselves Quite why the ONS has been obsessed with this figure is puzzling.'
He repeated recent admissions the Government had mistakes over immigration policy and that the public was right to have concerns.
He said: 'It is foolhardy to dismiss the concerns of those who in a relatively short space of time have seen their neighbourhoods placed under enormous pressure.
'In referring to these communities, we somewhat condescendingly talk about the pace of change being too fast. But for many, the fact of change causes resentment as well.
'Those who perceive dramatic change have every right to be concerned about the pressures immigration may bring on housing, jobs and services, particularly in areas already marked by deprivation. Politicians ignore such concerns at their peril.'
But he accused Mr Cameron of 'subterfuge', and said it was 'not honest' of the Tory leader to claim his policy of imposing a cap on non-EU migrants would stop the population hitting 70million.
High birth rates and longer life mean even cutting net migration from around 160,000 to 50,000 would only delay the eventual population rise, Mr Johnson said.
He said: '(David Cameron) recently suggested that his as yet unspecified quota on immigration numbers will ensure the UK population does not reach 70 million.
'Linking the two issues in this way is tenuous. Cameron sets up the spectre of a population explosion and claims to have the solution. It's a combination of dog whistle and snake oil.
He added: 'If you cut to 50,000 (a year) you would still reach the dreaded spectre of 70 million, albeit some decades later, around 2070 or 2080.
'Don't pretend you've got a population policy by dog whistle over a so-called cap which is actually a quota, it's not honest politics.
Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said: 'Alan Johnson really doesn't seem to get it.
'We now know that this Government deliberately removed immigration controls so it could pursue its own party political social objectives – and the result was a big increase in the number of people coming to the country.
'That has to stop. We need a tough new approach to controlling immigration that puts a limit on the number of work permits we grant to people from overseas, stops people from using the student visa system as a back-door route to immigration, and sets up a dedicated border police force to combat illegal immigration. We cannot go on with the levels of immigration we have seen under Labour.'
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