British immigration policy isn’t driven by humanitarian principles. Anti-immigrant legislation began in 1905 with the Aliens Act. Mass immigration from Eastern Europe was halted in 1905 because most were destitute and wealth was the sole criterion used for desirability. Nazi Germany, in the 1930s, created a hostile environment inducing Jews to emigrate. Britain, amongst other countries, ignored humanitarian arguments to ease immigration controls. Latterly, a series of civil wars in the Middle East have created large numbers of refugees. Most flee to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Those who flee to Europe don’t find a refuge in Britain as immigration controls aren’t loosened. British immigration policy is a psycho-drama where refugees are always a problem. The narrative arc has been consistent for the last 113 years: Britain is the Promised Land and immigrants are undesirable1.
The 1905 Aliens Act satirised
The 1905 Aliens Act ended open-door entry into Britain. Destitute Eastern European Jews fleeing Tsarist persecution were denied entry into Britain even if it saved lives. Parliament focused on wealth as the criterion for entry. Immigrants travelling steerage (the cheapest way of travelling on a ship) were de facto undesirable. For some MPs even this was too lax:
… if the mere fact of paying a few extra shillings took these persons out of the category of steerage passengers, this Bill was not a sufficient protection to the people of these islands who wished to be protected from these aliens2.(my emphasis)
This amendment was lost as the Home Secretary pointed out that a large number of immigrants were en route to the USA.
‘Immigrant’ became synonymous with ‘Jew’. British 1930s anti-Semitism didn’t find Hitler’s views repugnant though there was never mass support for religious persecution. Germany’s increasingly hostile environment increased migration. British and American anti-Semitism meant even eminent German Jews like Albert Einstein only managed, with difficulty, to get visas. Military ‘immigrants’ like the Polish air force and the defeated French army obviously entered the country by force majeur3 in 1940.
The much lauded Kindertransport4 had buried within it an anti-humanitarian message. Kindertransport children had no right to remain in 1939. Adults weren’t permitted because British politicians wanted the children returned after the ’emergency’. After Churchill accepted Stalin’s demands for control of Eastern Europe, Polish pilots and soldiers suddenly realised that they would be handed over to the NKVD (Stalin’s Gestapo). It took an act of parliament5 to prevent jobsworth Home Office officials forcibly deporting them to an almost certain death.
Notwithstanding evidence of the significant contribution that immigrants make to Britain, anti-immigrant policy has hardened since 1945. In 2018 immigration policy now excludes skilled professionals who’ve been offered senior positions in hospitals and other areas of the economy. Immigration is now not a matter of wealth6 but is a tick-box exercise where only numbers matter7. The undesirable axiom now means that all immigrants are undesirable regardless of their known skills and predicted contribution to the well-being of Britain.
1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ricardian_economics The analogy is that Britain seems to have a belief that British people have a competitive advantage over all other people.
2 Herbert Robertson MP for Hackney, London, where a very large number of immigrant Jews lived is quoted here in the debate. In 2018 immigrant has become synonymous with Muslim in exactly the same borough. https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1905/jul/11/aliens-bill-1 col 335. That it wasn’t anti-Semitic can be seen from the remarks about Argentinian pseudo-sailors who pretended to be sailors simply to disembark without going through any immigration procedure. Col 340ff
3 (a) The defeated Polish air force literally flew into Britain later making huge contribution to the Battle of Britain. (b) The defeated French army at Dunkirk of 75,000 French soldiers were evacuated by the Royal Navy. see https://oedeboyz.com/2014/09/19/the-polish-air-force-1939-40/ for the contribution of the Polish air force to the battle of Britain.
5 About 200,000 Polish citizens were rewarded for their immense contribution to the war effort with British citizenship and pensions. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo6/10-11/19 Even this was extorted out of an unwilling government.
7 https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/oct/04/jeremy-hunt-accused-devaluing-contribution-foreign-doctors-to-uk and for IT and engineering workers see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-44113324