Czech ambassador stresses need to counter anti-immigrant arguments in Britain

Photo: CTK

The British vote in general elections today which most polls predict will be too close to call. Almost certainly, no single party, neither Labour nor the Conservatives, will end up having a majority on their own in the lower house of parliament. Immigration and Britain’s future membership of the European Union have been prominent issues for voters and for the many Czechs now living and working in the country.

Nigel Farage,  photo: CTK
One aspect of the election campaign has been the attempt by the anti-EU and anti-immigration UKIP party to try and reproduce the success it has had in by-elections in the South East of England and make a breakthrough onto the national political stage.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage is standing in the rundown Kent seaside district of South Thanet. Like nearby Dover, these are the sort of places on the outskirts of London where many Czechs and Slovaks started to head for around a decade ago and have since settled.

I spoke to the Czech Republic’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Michael Žantovský about the elections and first asked him whether he was worried about the anti-immigrant and anti-EU tone of some of the campaign:

Michael Žantovský,  photo: Petr Novák CC BY-SA 3.0
“Well, not overly. The topic of immigration and of Europe and in particular was not the main subject of the debate before the elections although it did appear in the latter part of the campaign. And support for anti-immigrant and anti-EU views has not been increasing over the past few months.

On the contrary, the latest polls show that it has somewhat decreased. But it will continue to be a matter for controversy even after the elections. That is for sure. And that is why it is very important to argue using some objective data like the research done which clearly shows that the immigration from the new EU member countries has been a net benefit to the British economy and even to the budget.”

Just on the immigration issue, I know some parts England quite well, such as Kent, and there are some quite substantial Czech communities living in places such as Dover, Ramsgate, and on the other side towards Essex. on the outskirts of London. This is where the anti-immigrant party seems to be making a large part of its focus…

“That’s probably correct, but even so, I would not say that Czech immigration specifically is a matter of much controversy. The attacks, such as they are, are often more aimed at other nationalities.”

Photo: CTK
Everyone says that the results are likely to be that no party will gain a majority. How much will that complicate your job? British elections are usually fairly clear cut. This one looks like it will produce a confused result with negotiations…

“There may be a period of uncertainty after the elections. That is probably inevitable in the case of a hung parliament. But it helps coming from a country which is well used to coalitions and post-election periods of negotiations and uncertainties.”