While rejecting any concerted effort to recruit black immigrants, Britain engaged in its one and only active immigration policy in the postwar period, luring some 350,000 European Volunteer Workers (EVWs)—mostly Poles and other Europeans 'displaced' by the war—into the country (Jones, Catherine 1977). They were welcome, and not just as German-style guestworkers. As a civil servant in the Ministry of Labour explained, the EVW's 'are coming definitely for permanent settlement here with a view to their intermarrying and complete absorption into our own working population'.
Aliens being preferred to fellow subjects of the Crown—never was the disjunction between formal membership status and identity more obvious. Immigration was definitely not on the agenda in 1948. As a Tory described the elite opinion of the time, 'we thought that there would be a free trade in citizens, that people would come and go, and that there would not be much of an overall balance in one direction or the other'.
9 The age of innocence came to an end with the 1958 race riots in Nottingham and Notting Hill, when 'illiberal opinion'—transmitted into Parliament primarily by Conservative back-bench pressure, especially from the industrial Midlands—took the lead. In 1961, the number of new immigrants from New Commonwealth countries crossed the 100,000 mark for the first time, and the total intake since 1956 was over half a million. This was perceived as a problem for both external and internal reasons.
Externally, the parallel race unrest in the United States created the not unreasonable fear that Britain was importing 'a colour problem approaching that of the United States'. Internally, black immigration became especially problematic because of 'clotting', its spatial concentration in 'smallish areas of poor housing and high unemployment'(Asante, Molefi Kete, 1992). Striking about the early calls for restricting New Commonwealth immigration is their apologetic tone, which suggests that the political elites were pushed into something they did not like.
Tory Home Secretary Butler confessed his 'great reluctance' when bringing in his 1961 Bill, characterizing the latter as only temporary, still more liberal than the general alien restrictions, and intent on controlling, rather than prohibiting, New Commonwealth immigration. The Bill, which made new admissions dependent on largely skill- and need-based employment vouchers, was ostensibly a labour-market measure, but one that made no sense in the context of a full employment economy.
In public, the Home Secretary declared that 'the Bill is drafted so that there is no racial discrimination', 13 but a cabinet memorandum reveals him admitting that 'its aim is primarily social and its restrictive effect is intended to, and would in fact, operate on coloured people almost exclusively'. 14 Both statements are not necessarily contradictory. The wording of the Bill is not racially discriminatory, while its effect certainly is. At the same time, it would be naive to assume that this effect was not intended.
The exclusion of East African Asians was accomplished by extending immigration control to UK passport-holders without 'substantial connection' with the UK. 'Substantial connection' was not only birth in the UK—the core of Lord Butler's definition of 'belonging', but alternatively a parental or grandparental connection with the UK. This widened the scope of belongers to the descendants of certain categories of British settlers (i. e. those with UK and colonies citizenship), while excluding UK government passport-holders without ancestral connection to the UK.
Home Secretary Callaghan defended this redefinition of belonging as 'geographical, not racial': 'Those who, orwhose fathers or fathers' fathers, were born, naturalised, adopted, or registered in the United Kingdom, will be exempted [from immigration control] whatever their race. ' This was not inaccurate. And as a Tory defender of the grandfather clause pointed out, 'all the great nations of the earth have what the Jews call a Diaspora', and to recognize 'some special and residual obligation towards them' could not possibly be racial discrimination (Goulbourne, Harry 1992).
In the first major indictment of British immigration policy by European institutions, the European Commission on Human Rights took a different view. Britain had wisely not signed the immigration-related Fourth Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, which stipulates that 'no one shall be deprived of the right to enter the territory of the State of which he is a national', and thus deemed itself beyond the pale of possible indictment on Convention grounds (Goulbourne, Harry 1992).
While the Commission admitted that the Convention as such did not guarantee a right of entry, it still concluded that other treaty rights may be violated by immigration measures. In particular, the Commission found it 'established that the 1968 Act had racial motives and that it covered a racial group'. 24 In excluding formal citizens on these grounds, Britain had reduced them to the status of 'second-class citizens' with equal duties but lesser rights.