UK Politics

Blunkett backs Fallon on migrants 'swamped' comments

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Media captionDavid Blunkett: I used the word swamped 12 years ago and I was not told off by Downing Street

Former Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett has backed cabinet minister Michael Fallon over his warning that some parts of the UK risk becoming "swamped" by immigrants.

The defence secretary, who said some areas felt "under siege", has retracted his comments, calling them "careless".

But Mr Blunkett wrote in the Daily Mail that Mr Fallon had been "right to speak out" on immigration.

He added that it was time to "lance the boil" of concerns over the issue.

Official figures published in August showed UK net migration - the difference between those entering and leaving - went up by more than 38% to 243,000 in 2013-14, with EU citizens accounting for two-thirds of the growth.

Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to announce efforts to put an "emergency brake" on EU migration in the next few weeks, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned against "tampering" with rules on the free movement of people within the 28-nation bloc.

'Political courage'

This prompted Mr Fallon to warn that some parts of eastern England could be "swamped" with immigrants, placing extra demands on public services and housing and that some places already felt "under siege".

He later said he "misspoke", with Mr Cameron, as well as Labour and the Liberal Democrats, criticising his use of words.

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Image caption Michael Fallon retracted his comments after criticism

On Monday, the Archbishop of Canterbury warned: "The language we use must reflect the value of the human being and not treat immigration as just a deep menace that is somehow going to overwhelm the country."

Writing in the Mail, Mr Blunkett admitted that politicians were "treading in a minefield" when speaking on the issue and that he had faced a "storm" when also using the word "swamped" 12 years ago.

He said: "Yet for all such condemnation, I believe that both Michael Fallon and I were right to speak out on this issue and to voice the concerns of ordinary voters. Just because immigration is deeply controversial, that cannot mean that we should avoid talking about it."

Mr Blunkett added: "Words are important, but so is political courage. What we need from all politicians is honesty and openness, not a desire for political point- scoring or displays of self-righteous importance."

He called for foreigners not to have access to social security or state housing "without having built up an entitlement".

Mr Blunkett said: "Such measures would help to lance the boil of immigration concerns and thereby restore faith in our democracy.

"What will not work is shouting down any politician who dares to engage with the British public's concerns. The issue is far too serious for such posturing."

Measures under consideration by Mr Cameron reportedly include stopping EU migration after it reaches a certain level or limiting the number of National Insurance numbers issued to new arrivals.

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