Immigration and Nationality (United Kingdom)

Accordingly, British immigration policy cannot be understood within the framework of client politics. Its demiurge is not the receivers of concentrated benefits, such as employers or ethnic groups, but the bearers of diffuse costs: a public that has been overwhelmingly and immovably hostile to coloured immigration. This is expressed in the official assertion, endlessly and almost ritualistically repeated, that firm immigration control is necessary for 'improving community relations'.

The peculiarly 'lexicographic' ordering of immigration control and race relations amounts to admitting that the animus of British immigration policy is public hostility to coloured immigration. Smethwick in 1964, when an unknown Tory candidate sacked a safe Labour seat on a blatantly anti-immigrantticket, was a traumatic key event in this regard, which has 'sunk deeply into the minds of the political elite'.

The latter drew two lessons from it: never to tinker with the public's no-immigration mandate, and to prevent the eruption of racial hostility by anticipatory, ever vigilant immigration controls; and to remove this sensitive issue from the realm of partisan politics. There has been an elite consensus over the basic contours of immigration and race-relations policy, whose best indicators are the noisy protestations whenever the 'race card' is played in British politics (Grant, Stefanie 1987).

If, for different reasons, Britain shared with Germany a penchant for zero-immigration, the question arises why she has been so much better at realizing it. One reason is docile courts and the lack of constitutional protections for immigrants. A legal-constitutional system protective of immigrant interests has been the key to Germany's expansiveness toward immigrants, undermining the zero-immigration intentions circulating in the political system. In Britain, there has been little blockading of the political branches of government by recalcitrant courts.

Sovereignty is firmly and unequivocally invested in Parliament, which knows no constitutional limits to its law-making powers. In immigration policy, this institutional arrangement entails a dualism of extreme legislative openness and executive closure, which is detrimental to the interests of immigrants. Parliamentary openness in the formulation of immigration policy keeps law-makers within the confines of a pervasively restrictionist public opinion.

Once a policy has been decided upon, there is executive closure in its implementation, with the Home Office firmly and uncontestedly in charge. Immigration policy both suffered from and aggravated the problem of identity, demolishing the Whig-imperialist illusion in excluding certain subjects of empire, while having no alternative model of membership and community to build upon. Nevertheless forced to define who belongs, British immigration policy resorted to birth and ancestry, thus introducing an ethnic marker that had so far been absent from the definition of Britishness.

That the ethnic marker was, in effect, also a racial marker between whites and non-whites is the root cause of the charge of racial discrimination, from which British immigration policy could never quite liberate itself (Lawson, Miguel, and Grin, Marianne, 1992). When the first black immigrants arrived aboard the Empire Windrush in June 1948, the Cabinet Economic Policy Committee drily noted that these were 'private persons travelling at their own expense', and thus could not be stopped.

But the committee urged the responsible Colonial Office to '[prevent] the occurrence of similar incidents' in the future. The entire British immigration experience is encapsulated in this response to the first 492 Jamaicans landing on its shore. No one had asked them to come; they were perfectly free to come; more of them were too many of them. Strangely, while the memory of the war fought by civilized Britain against racist Germany was still fresh, never was racial discourse more openly, almost innocently, expressed than in the earliest encounter with black immigrants.

In the face of a severe labour shortage, the Royal Commission on Population recommended in 1949 to recruit some 140,000 young immigrants, but only if they were 'of good human stock and . . . not prevented by their religion or race from inter-marrying with the host population and becoming merged in it'. The Ministry of Labour likewise 'rule[d] out any question of a concerted plan to bring West Indian colonial workers here', pointing out the serious 'social implications' that the introduction of 'other races' into the labour force would have.