Labour has launched a strong attack on the Daily Express for making a "highly offensive" claim that the children of migrants should also be classed as immigrants, even if they were born in Britain.
Today's Daily Express ran with the provocative front page headline: 'Hidden Migrant Millions'. The newspaper cited research from Migration Watch that claimed immigrants and children born to immigrants accounted for the majority of the UK's population growth.
Shadow cabinet minister Lord Stewart Wood, one of Ed Miliband's closest allies, said on Wednesday afternoon the paper was making a "clear implication" that the children of immigrants who are born and raised here are really immigrants too.
In an open letter to Richard Desmond, the owner of Express Newspapers, published on The Huffington Post UK, Wood said: "I cannot see any quote from Migration Watch to justify the headline that these immigrants are 'hidden', so I assume it was the view of the Daily Express."
He said: "Your paper has long argued that members of the British public have legitimate concerns about the impact of immigration – a position shared by the Labour Party and Ed Miliband. But suggesting by implication that people who are born and brought up here are somehow un-British or foreign because one or both of their parents emigrated here from abroad surely is not legitimate, but rather is inaccurate and, to many, highly offensive."
The Office for National Statistics, which provides the nation's official population figures, does not count the count children born in the UK as migrants "in accordance with UN international standards".
Migration Watch has now distanced itself from the Daily Express headline. The think-tank said the term "hidden migrant" was "not appropriate".
In his letter to Desmond, Wood said: "I am sure that you are neither responsible for every editorial judgement made by your newspapers nor seek to interfere in headlines like some other proprietors. But can I ask you this: are you happy that the Daily Express is saying that we should consider people such as Prince Charles, Ed Miliband, Boris Johnson & Winston Churchill as migrants “hidden” from the British public by official statistics? And is it correct that the Daily Express is suggesting that the children of Nick Clegg and, for that matter, Nigel Farage are “hidden migrants”?
"Depicting the children of migrants in this way insinuates that, despite being born and bred in the UK, we should regard them as in the same category as those who were born and bred abroad. And if that is the insinuation, I find it offensive as someone who is British, proud of my country, and with a German mother who has lived in Britain permanently and happily for over 50 years."
The Labour peer added: "I also find it curious that a paper owned by someone whose maternal grandparents came to this country from Ukraine in search of a better life would be happy to give this impression about the descendants of immigrants."
Desmond is not the first media owner to come under fire from Labour. The party has previously attacked Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, for its description of Miliband's father as "the man who hated Britain". And Miliband gunned for Rupert Murdoch in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.
David Cameron is due to set out his own plans to restrict EU immigration in a speech before Christmas. The prime minister is under pressure from backbench Tories to respond to the electoral threat from Ukip by promising to be even tougher on migration.
Today, Nick Clegg also set out proposals to curb benefits to European Union migrants, including tackling so-called "benefits tourism" without challenging the key principle of EU free movement.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal today, former prime minister Tony Blair warned Miliband not to try to "out-Ukip" on immigration and Europe policy.
He said the way to deal with Ukip was to "analyse their policies, show how destructive they would be" and set out positive alternatives "rather than joining in selling people a false and illusory elixir of hope, which is around if you stop more Polish people coming to Britain you're going to provide more jobs in the poorest communities in the UK".