But we won’t get any of these schemes going if we are so demented as to tell foreign investors to bog off – because it is precisely this overseas demand that is critical to the economics of many of the developments. In case you hadn’t noticed, our UK banks’ balances were shot to pieces in 2008, and we have a huge national deficit. We need to keep that investment flowing, and those who argue against such funding – or who foment, blatantly or furtively, the anti-foreigner mood – are as wrong as those who protest against people buying second homes in the countryside.
As Kris Hopkins MP pointed out at the weekend, it is those townie second homes that bring cash and jobs to the rural economy. He is brave and right to say it. The same point should be made, analogously, about international investment in London. That cash brings jobs, as well as homes. And we will only find it harder to build the homes we need if we are so foolish as to turn against legal foreign workers. Go to any London building site and listen to the languages being spoken. Yes, native Britons are right to observe, sadly, that huge numbers of jobs in catering, retail and construction have been taken by people from the EU accession countries. They are right to think those jobs might in principle have gone to native people. But that is very largely a function of a British welfare and education system that is only now being reformed.
We need to help our young people – not beat up on Johnny Foreigner. Yes, we should be tough on illegal immigration; and yes, there may well be a case for looking at the relative attractions of British benefits and the median incomes in some European countries. In my view, national governments should have more flexibility in deciding how long EU migrant workers must have been in employment before they can claim benefits.
This is an obvious area where we could see some restitution of national sovereignty, and I hope it will be on the table in the coming process of renegotiation. But it makes no more sense to exclude talented and legally established foreign workers than it does to exclude foreign investment. Before we all collapse in a xenophobic frenzy, let me ask: which European nation provides the most foreigners? It’s us! The British. We live abroad in greater numbers than any other country; we have been pushing up the prices in some European destinations for decades. Should we have a crazed exchange of populations – kicking the French out of Kensington in retribution for what they have done to house prices, while they kick us out of the Dordogne? What a miserable, blinkered, pointless and fundamentally stupid way of looking at the world.
Both sets of incomers bring money and jobs to the community. And don’t think, by the way, that we Britons are above claiming benefits in other EU countries. A spectacular report just out shows that one in 10 Brits in Germany is on benefits – about 10,000 in all. There were some hilarious quotes from British claimants about how simple the German system is, how generous and non-judgmental.
They get up to £23,318 a year from the German taxpayer. I suppose we could just urge the Germans to stop being so soft-hearted and kick out our kids as soon as they lose their jobs. But then what if it was your kid, and what if they were married to a German and had their own children in a German school? Suddenly it’s not quite so clear-cut, is it? That’s one of the problems with bashing the bloody foreigners. We have our own share of irritating British rich people, pushing up house prices abroad and cheesing off the natives. We have our own share of bludgers, living off benefits in other countries. The Brits: we’re the biggest load of bloody foreigners on earth. It’s been good for us, and on the whole it’s been good for the world.