Magazine article The Spectator

Green's Pleasant Land

Magazine article The Spectator

Green's Pleasant Land

Article excerpt

So, off to meet Sir Andrew Green, retired Foreign Office mandarin, now founder and chairman of Migration Watch, which is cither an 'independent think tank which has no links to any political party' (Migrationwatch.co.uk) or is a 'nasty little outfit with a distinctly unpleasant agenda' (the Independent). It depends, I suppose, on where you are coming from. Whatever, Sir Andrew lives in Deddington, an extremely pretty village on the edge of the Cotswolds, in a lovely house of delicious honey-coloured ironstone dating back to the mid-18th century. Through the gate and up the front path, which bisects a just-as-lovely garden, filled with snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, hellebores, rose beds and the first brave geranium leaves pushing through the frost. It's all so gloriously English. There is even a St George flag, with 'Proud To Be English' marker-penned across it, pinned to some scaffolding on the house opposite. 'Would you care for a wash?' Sir Andrew asks, when he answers the door, just as a proper Englishman, perhaps, should always ask a lady after a tiring journey. I think, now, that if I'd worn Laura Ashley, say, teamed with a bodice, we might have got on rather better. At least I didn't fart. His hobbies in Who's Who are listed as 'tennis, sailing, bridge and desert travel'.

Sir Andrew, who founded Migration Watch in 2001, is now 63. He is dapper, handsome, articulate, the acceptable face of something, although I'm not yet sure what. Into the living-room: bookcases, dainty china thingies, photographs of his two children and pretty inks of Devon and Cornish coastlines. The son of an RAF group captain and a diplomat all his life, he was latterly ambassador to Syria and then Saudi Arabia, but there appear to be few, if any, Middle-Eastern flavours here. He offers tea, which I accept, then his conditions, which appear non-negotiable. 'Now, you understand that I don't do personal questions. We're talking about migration.'

Infuriatingly, he's as good as his word. So, Sir Andrew, can you tell me why you first got interested in this subject? 'Personal question.' So, Sir Andrew, do you miss the Middle East? 'I miss the desert. And other things, but that's a personal question.' As Migration Watch is funded solely by private donations, could you tell me how much is donated a year? 'No.' Wouldn't life be so much easier, Sir Andrew, if people could just learn to live in countries that might not be as clearly defined as they'd like? 'That's your opinion. These are matters of personal opinion which I don't get into.' I'm guessing there is no point asking how often he and Lady Green have sex these days. I think, though, that he's less the stereotypical closed-up, upper-class Englishman, more the kind of man who cannot admit, even to himself, what he truly wants to say.

I tell him, first off, that having tried to read myself into the subject over the last couple of days, my brain (which I admit is on the smallish side) now feels fit to burst. The government says net immigration is running at about 160,000 a year; you say 245,000 (and believe that 'such massive immigration is contrary to the interests of all sections of our community'). You say we take more asylum-seekers than any other country in Europe. Others say we are tenth on the list. You say that come 1 May, when the central European countries join the EU, 40,000 will make their way to the UK annually, whereas the government predicts 5,000 to 11,000 . . . how can one have a proper debate based on such unreliable figures? Or when the numbers can, it seems, be loaded any way you want to play it? How worried should I be that, in the near future, I won't be able to get down the shops for Roma gypsies either on their way to barge into some hospital queue or coming back from having bled the benefits system dry?

Sir Andrew says, by way of reply, that he has made some notes. He then, alas, proceeds doggedly to read from them: 'Let me start by saying the most striking feature of the current situation is that the immigration lobby and government avoid all discussion of numbers. …

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