Brexit and Aliens, par Duncan Sutherland

As has been remarked upon already, Brexit will force you to carry a passport and be subject to immigration control at the UK border like the generality of foreign citizens who have no special privileges in respect of admissibility to England’s green and pleasant land. I say England rather than Great Britain or even the United Kingdom, because UK immigration control is based essentially upon an English attitude towards foreigners and an English tradition in keeping their numbers under control. Furthermore, as you know, England’s northern appendage, Scotland, has no wish to impose Brexit immigration controls but is dragged into doing so, just as it was dragged into leaving the European Union, where it was perfectly happy to be. In England, on the contrary, one of its periodic outcries against foreigners and all their works created a demand for something to be done about them. Hence the 2016 Brexit referendum and the the English decision to send you all packing and subsequently to keep you from interfering in English affairs ever again.

For much of the nineteenth century, curiously, there was no British immigration control to speak of, although there had been one to a greater or lesser degree at times throughout the history of England, mainly at times when that kingdom felt itself to be particularly threatened by foreign powers, quite often France, of course. In Victorian times foreigners flooded in, especially to London, where a particularly large Jewish presence was established in the East End, producing a noticeably unfavourable response among the native population, who had, however, been only too pleased to receive Huguenot refugees from France in the 17th century as a result of really brutal religious persecution following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. In the nineteenth century, nonetheless, there was a public outcry against what was considered to be the undesirable impact of excessive foreign settlement, and so immigration controls were brought back. Similarly, in the 1950s and 1960s, a public outcry against the same phenomenon in respect of migration from the British Commonwealth resulted in imposition of immigration controls on Commonwealth citizens. The Brexit outcry against foreigners and the response thereto can thus be seen to be not without precedent, at least in some respects.

What does an English mind make of all of this? That I cannot tell you in so far as I do not possess one, being merely Scottish, but in this regard it is worth reading a passage which I shall quote to you from the seminal English account of English and subsequently British immigration control, The Key in the Lock by TWE Roche in 1969, the author having been a (totally English) senior civil servant in the immigration branch of the Home Office at the time and the book’s title referring back to the High Constable of Dover Castle, who kept the keys to that (ironically) Norman fortress, which was the lock which supposedly kept the kingdom secure. Looking forward to a decade in which UK membership of the European Economic Community seemed possible, Mr Roche wrote as follows:

“Must an internal control on the Continental pattern come into being, or will the traditional style of immigration control into these islands survive, adapting itself to new problems and new means of transport?

Looking back on the lessons of the past nine hundred years, the answer must surely be plain. We still need a front door on our national house: the electorate does not wish inhabitants of other countries to stream in here and partake of the advantages of our hard-won civilization as of right. If an internal control took the place of port control, if we threw aside our natural geographical advantages, the flood gates would be open. Our country is too tempting a magnet for the less happily endowed denizens of this planet for it to be otherwise, Not only must the undesirable be excluded: large numbers of people who are hard-working and of good character must be kept out because their presence would cause unemployment. Somehow, then, a modus vivendi must be found to reconcile great numbers of travellers arriving even more swiftly with the ‘sifting’ process essential to our economy and national well-being. Immigration control and the Immigration Service, even if required to adopt an appeal system for ‘refusals’, must adapt itself once again to changing conditions. There is no doubt that it can do so.”

That was in 1969. Now that we are in 2021 it is possible to perceive that UK port-based immigration control has not produced the results desired by such as Mr Roche, who would no doubt be horrified to discover that the present-day Home Secretary in overall charge of immigration control is one Priti Patel, whose Asian family came to the UK in the 1970s as refugees from East Africa. Despite the fact that, contrary to Roche’s confident assertion, the English model of port-based immigration control is in fact singularly and demonstrably ill-suited to the age of mass international travel, that is what you must now endure as European Union citizens if you choose in due course to travel to England’s green and pleasant land, not forgetting its peripheral appendages, needless to say. Unfortunately, when it comes to immigration control we have to face up to the fact that the English have learned nothing in the past thousand years and what goes around comes around.

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