Time for an open and honest debate about Migration Watch? Defamation case against Labour activist Sally Bercow highlights the urgent need for libel reform.
Right-wing thinktank takes its cue from the British Chiropractic Association
Migration Watch is a right-wing thinktank run by Andrew Green, former UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, whose controversial claims about the scale and impact of immigration in Britain have been repeatedly challenged.
One might have thought that our former envoy to one of the world’s most repressive regimes would have been keen to defend basic human rights. So I was surprised to learn that Green and his organisation have made repeated use of Britain’s notoriously unfair and draconian libel laws in response to criticism of their views.
Today sees the launch of a renewed campaign to defend freedom of speech in Britain, prompted by the ill-judged libel threat by Migration Watch and Andrew Green against Labour commentator and activist Sally Bercow over comments she made in a TV discussion. She is fighting the claim with the help of formidable free speech advocates David Allen Green and Robert Dougans, who led the successful defence of science writer Simon Singh against an unfounded libel claim by the British Chiropractic Association.
Interestingly, Migration Watch have themselves repeatedly called for “open debate” about immigration:
“The census figures should stimulate an open and honest debate about this highly sensitive issue”, Migration Watch, February 2003
“It is time for a fundamental rethink on the back of an open and honest debate” – Andrew Green, BBC, September 2005
“An open debate would be welcome”, Andrew Green, Guardian, March 2010
Migration Watch’s David Coleman was also keen to cite “freedom of speech” in 2007, when students at Oxford University controversially sought to have him sacked over his association with the Galton Institute (formerly known as the Eugenics Society).
Migration Watch is one of a small number of NGOs (splitting this dubious honour with the “Quilliam Foundation” and the BCA) who, while seeking to be part of a public discussion, have chosen to respond to criticism within that discussion by resorting to Britain’s discredited and dysfunctional libel laws.
It is indeed time for an “open debate”. Migration Watch should practise what they preach, and drop this misguided libel threat.