UKIP worked hard for many years to persuade the British people that they must not allow our country to be absorbed into a federal Europe. At last we have succeeded in persuading them. But what turned the balance in the end was not British sovereignty. It was immigration.
Levels of immigration have been a hidden but major political issue in Britain since soon after the Second World War. For far too long, ordinary people’s concerns about immigration have been suppressed. At last we can talk about them and perhaps do something about it.
The period after the War was one of high employment levels in Britain and very strong, perhaps excessive, trade union power. Employers, including the newly nationalised industries, looked for cheaper labour. They saw an opportunity in the Commonwealth. Until 1962, all Commonwealth citizens could enter and stay in the United Kingdom without any restriction. The Commonwealth included millions of people living on very low incomes. Many were eager to better themselves. Encouraged and incentivised by major employers, they started to stream in.
There were immediate economic and social implications. Their arrival must have depressed wage levels, but in a period of rapidly growing prosperity, these were not obviously noticeable. The trade unions, whose business was supposed to be to protect their members against competitive labour, concentrated instead on recruiting the newcomers to their own ranks.
Social implications were more noticeable. British people – particularly British working class people – are friendly and hospitable. Individually they welcomed the newcomers as guests. But as their numbers steadily rose, there was a reaction. Whole areas of our cities started to seem like foreign countries. The immigrants were coming, at that stage, mainly from tropical countries and they had dark faces. This made it possible for those who needed their labour to blame any adverse popular reactions on what was called “colour prejudice”. In fact the ordinary people of Britain were quite indifferent to the colour of the newcomers’ faces. Their reaction was the normal one of any other human population anywhere in the world: they simply did not like to see their country being taken over by foreigners. It is called patriotism.
It was plain that if large-scale immigration was to continue, the media and through the media the general population would have to be persuaded that it was morally wrong to object to it. Immigration would have to be re-marketed. Opposition to it was given a new description. The new words “racism” and “racist” were coined and (by association with Nazi Germany) given connotations of unspeakable wickedness. The new words worked much better than the old “colour prejudice” and the fear of being labelled “racist” remains a powerful deterrent to this day.
Then came the challenge of the EU open borders, with the threat, first of the whole of Eastern Europe and then of the whole of Africa and the Middle East descending on our island. This has now at last precipitated a real political reaction. If we are to avoid the same thing happening again, we need to re-think the whole subject of immigration and decide on the right policies for Britain in the future.
What Kind of Immigration Policy?
The present UKIP immigration policy – an “Australia-style points system” – is quite inappropriate for Britain, even if it’s right for Australia. Britain is not Australia. Australia is still a country of immigration – a very large country with a relatively low population density. Britain is a relatively small country with a very high population density. Australia has always actively encouraged immigration; it merely wishes to regulate who comes in and to ensure that the numbers arriving over any given period of time can be successfully assimilated.
Britain has a large enough population already. The high levels of immigration which we have seen in the last fifty years – and particularly in the last ten years – have had the effect of increasing our population to unexpectedly high levels, but at the same time of driving some of our own population out of their country. Many of our hospital consultants (and perhaps many of our plumbers) have emigrated. Our immigration policy should be designed to maintain our population at about the present level.
There is another issue. One of the unfortunate side-effects of our previous attempts to restrict Commonwealth immigration has been that it has become very difficult for people from Australia, Canada and New Zealand to settle here. Because we were concerned about being called racists, we imposed the same barriers on them as on the peoples of the West Indies, Africa and the Indian sub-continent. The barriers we have put up have inspired retaliatory barriers in these old Commonwealth countries, which in the past had greatly valued their British traditions and close family links and had always encouraged UK immigration.
Why is there a need to restrict Indian immigration but no need to restrict Australian immigration? It’s something much simpler and more rational than racism. It is that if we allow unlimited Australian immigration, individual Australians will come, but there will be no mass movement of population. If we allow unlimited Indian immigration, Indians will come in very large numbers. They will come because income levels are far higher in Britain than they are in India. Although India is developing economically and becoming an important world power, and although it is (at least in theory) a democracy, it is still a country with great extremes of wealth and poverty. The same applies to (for example) Brazil. It is good to allow free movement of free people. But we cannot open the doors to mass migration of people from countries at lower economic levels. There are some countries whose people we can safely allow in, and others whose people we cannot.
How can we distinguish between countries without causing diplomatic offence and creating a need for constant revision of our lists? In practice the countries whose people’s migration to Britain needs to be restricted are those to which British people do not migrate. Our system should work if we balance migration country-by-country. We should not allow the number of permanent immigrants from any one country to greatly exceed the number of permanent emigrants from the U.K. to that same country.
The system should be self-correcting. If a country becomes more prosperous, British people will see opportunities there, and migrate there. But because it is becoming more prosperous, it will be safe to allow some of its citizens, if they wish, to immigrate here. Not too many will come.
The effect of this will be that there will be some countries – notably countries like the USA, Canada and Australia – with which movement of population would effectively be quite free and uncontrolled in both directions (at least as far as British law is concerned); and others (for example, third-world countries which receive very few UK immigrants) from which it would be prevented. Adjustments, special cases and genuine asylum seekers can of course be allowed for when they occur.
It goes without saying that such a policy will only work if we first ensure that we are keeping adequate statistics on migration flows between the UK and other countries. Modern social survey techniques make that quite easy to do. No doubt a combination of incompetence and concealment explains the present poor statistics.