A Liberal Democrat Minister has said that pubs are closing because of the number of Somali immigrants arriving in Britain.
Stephen Williams, the communities minister, told MPs in the House of Commons that new waves of migration replacing the “white working class” had caused the closure of huge numbers of previously successful public houses, the Telegraph reports.
Mr Williams, whose party along with Labour and the Conservatives supported the expansion of the European Union in 2004, leading to a massive influx of migrants, was specific about those which had, in his opinion, led to the closures.
His comments were part of a debate as the Government unveiled new plans to protect pubs after over a thousand have closed since the smoking ban was brought into law in 2007: a rate of about 26 a week on average.
The Government has included a series of amendments to the Infrastructure Bill which have cross party support to stop pubs being demolished or having their use changed without planning permission.
Deciding that pubs are now valuable to local communities, the plans are to stop pubs which meet the new criteria from being demolished or converted for other uses, such as flats.
In November last year, MPs voted to loosen the ties which pub companies have over landlords managing tied pubs, with the aim of allowing them to lower prices to compete better with supermarkets and draw clientele in. The reform gives 15,000 British pubs the chance to ask for an independently assessed market rent and allows them to buy beer on the open market rather than being tied to one company.
With towns and villages littered with the corpses of boarded up pubs; formerly centres of local communities unable to make ends meet as the regular drinkers stopped turning up, not wanting to stand outside in the cold for a cigarette along with their pint, politicians are eager to taking action.
When the ban was brought in, people were told that pubs would instead be full of people who had stayed away because of the smoky atmosphere or come for evening meals, even though the Labour government was warned that pubs would close. There was evidence of this following the state of British Columbia in Canada introducing a similar ban, with the immediate results of bar closures.
But the Lib Dem Minister said that the reason many pubs had closed was in fact because of “demographic change” rather than regulars abandoning their locals. It was for this reason he said that the measures being implemented by the government would not be a “blanket protection” because cultural reasons had led to closures.
The MP for Bristol West said, “In my own constituency, lots of pubs have closed but it is usually because of demographic change.”
“Particularly in some parts of my constituency, which used to have … ‘a white working class community’ 20 or 30 years ago are now populated primarily by recently-arrived Somalis and other people.
“Obviously the pubs in that area have closed.
“Some have been converted to other uses, some of them actually are still derelict.”
It’s not the first time that migrants have been blamed for the closure of the British pub: one of the country’s traditional icons.
In December, Tory peer Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots said the growing Muslim population was one of the main reasons for pubs closing.
UKIP MEP Ray Finch said: “Mr Williams has obviously an issue with mistaking apples for oranges.
“Just because people are from a different culture doesn’t mean they can’t assimilate and indeed we should encourage them to enjoy the unique British culture.
“The smoking ban is iniquitous and illiberal and if MPs really wanted to save the great British pub they would look at allowing landlords the freedom to have dedicated smoking rooms in their own establishments – which is currently UKIP policy.”