To do it justice, a debate around immigration demands a more serious platform than that of name-calling and tribal warfare, argues James Glenister.

“We need a proper debate about immigration.” These words sum up the extent of actual debate around the issue of immigration thus far. What seems glaringly obvious is that real debate on immigration has been usurped by tribal politics; in one corner, the open door tribe, and the other, the INRB (I’m not racist but…) tribe.

From the INRB side, we’re told that every problem currently facing Britain today is the fault of immigrants. At best immigration is grossly blown out of proportion when it plays a role in an issue. The housing crisis for example is not due to low levels of house building but high levels of immigration, the overcrowding of A&E departments is not due to underfunding and the inability to get a GP appointment but, you guessed it, immigration.

From the open door tribe, we’re told that immigration has brought prosperity to the UK and in every measurable way has improved the country; to this end, as Jeremy Corbyn said in the dying days of the referendum, ‘there can be no upper limit to immigration’. The weapon of choice for members of this tribe is the lethal R word, with a 100 per cent success rate of neutralising any sort of rational argument against high levels of immigration. Even facts and statistics are no use against the R word. If I were to say that 39 per cent of men in the UK believe that wives should obey their husbands, there would be uproar. This finding would act as evidence for the view that we live in an intolerant society that seeks to make women subservient to their male counterparts. But if I quote the statistic found by Trevor Phillips, the former chairman of the equality and human rights commission, whose work has made the R word so lethal to debate, that 39 per cent of Muslims uphold the same belief, the R word is fired and the statistic itself is neutralised.

In a chasm this wide it is no surprise that little progress has been made.

If this debate was considered a sideline issue, perhaps the lack of progress would be of less importance. But it isn’t. An IPSOS MORI poll published on the day of the EU referendum found immigration to be the biggest issue facing Britain in the eyes of both Conservative and Labour voters; the figures for the two groups were 61 per cent and 41 per cent respectively. This suggests that people are yearning for this debate to be had. The first thing we must do is break this air of paranoia about being labeled a racist; then we can begin to bridge the gap between these two tribes and hear views from those who hold reasonable views and who have genuine concerns on the rate of immigration. There are members of the public who do hold genuinely xenophobic views, but what good comes of ostracising them and branding them racist? Where they are held, xenophobic views should be fiercely challenged in an open forum, not forced underground by the thought police who guarantees the stagnation of debate by hushing up those who have genuine concerns about the high rates of immigration. A debate of such importance and political relevance demands a more serious platform than that of name-calling and tribal warfare.

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