The End of Multiculturalism? Immigration and Integration in Germany and the United Kingdom

By Laura Muchowiecka
2013, Vol. 5 No. 06 | pg. 7/12 |

Part 2: The United Kingdom

In the debate on immigration to the United Kingdom it is often stated that until the second half of 20th century the British society was homogenous and its experience of cultural diversity is therefore a new phenomenon. This notion is based on a false conception of the UK as a state of one ethnicity group. In fact, Britain has always been diverse in terms of religion, ethnicity and culture. As professor Bernard Crick notes, “for a long time the UK has been a multicultural state composed of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and also a multicultural society . . . made up of diverse range of cultures and identities.”76 From the earliest times different ethnic groups settled in the UK over the centuries: Celts, Normans, Vikings, Huguenots, and Jews, to name only few of them.77

Since World War II there has been another wave of arrivals commonly called post-colonial or Commonwealth immigration. This immigration set, although not the biggest in numbers, has been on governmental agenda and a vital part of public debate throughout the last decades. It raises both concerns and hopes in the context of British multicultural society and its future.

This chapter of the thesis is devoted to socio-political processes that followed post-colonial migration to the UK. Just like the first part, it is divided into three subchapters. The first one provides an overview of the British immigration history in the second half of the 20th century and changing social sentiments towards the migrants as well as core legislations which were launched in order to regulate immigration and racial relations during this period. The second chapter refers to assimilation policies and segregation problems of the contemporary British society with the focus on two aspects of structural integration: education and economy. The last chapter presents analysis of the British media and political debates on the issue of multiculturalism and immigration based on the main keywords and dilemmas raised in the discussions. The concluding remarks refer to the question of changing patterns of the British national identity in the face of increasing ethnic diversity of the UK. The aim of all three chapters is to provide the overview of the issue of British multiculturalism and integration-related concerns based on the three dimensions such as: (1) a historical background, (2) statistic data of ethnic minorities and migration processes and, above all, (3) public debates in reference to press releases, public opinion surveys and institutional reports.

2.1. Post-colonial immigration and immigration policies in the United Kingdom

The history of the post-war immigration to Great Britain resembles Germany’s in one way: both countries have been showing a reluctant attitude towards massive newcomers. The newcomers have not been welcomed – although in different circumstances. However, British immigration restrictions had another focus. Its immigration policy has been determined by the fact of the downfall of its Empire.78 Thus, what shaped the trends of immigration over the decades following World War II was mainly the progressively restricted influx of citizens of the former British colonies. Of course it does not mean that non-colonial immigration did not take place, but it was post-colonial immigration which had the largest scale and influence on the changes of the British society. Great Britain, just like Germany, has been undergoing the immigration processes which have transformed allegedly a homogenous, nation-state with the non-white population of some 3 000 people at the end of World War II into a multicultural, diverse society with over 7 million foreign-born residents at the beginning of the 21st century. This chapter is intended to provide a brief overview of the history of immigration and British immigration policies after World War II but also to present the society of modern Britain and its socio-political issues are linked to the immigration processes described here.

Policy before 1962: Laying down the foundations for multiculturalism

It all started in 1948, when the British Nationality Act was passed. The legislation guaranteed the right of entry in Great Britain to all citizens of the Commonwealth. Since then 800 million people living in the territories covering a quarter of the Earth’s land surface could enter and settle in the UK without any restriction. It changed remarkably the direction of the migration in the British Empire – the UK, like many other European countries, was the society of emigration throughout the centuries. Now, the pattern was reversed: the UK opened entirely its doors and became the economically attractive destination country. At that stage the consequences of immigration were not taken into account – the Act was simply a way of maintaining the status quo of the British Empire and its citizens and this included not only inhabitants of the UK but also all British colonies subjected to the Queen.79

Over the following 14 years, until the next legislation known as the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962, Britain had one of the most liberal migration policies in the world. How, then, can the notion of a UK as a reluctant country of immigration be justified? This can be explained if we consider the circumstances of the liberal policy. It was neither motivated by the openness to the fellow-citizens nor by the post-war labour market shortages (contrary to the common belief), because the UK’s source of foreign workers was Europe.80 One of the largest labour schemes was the European Volunteer Worker (EVW), which let some 350 000 Europeans (mainly Poles) come and stay in Britain.81 What is more, EVWs could enter the country’s labour market on the same terms as British workers just after free years of residence. In contrast, the notion of a labour scheme for non-white immigrants was rejected: the Ministry of Labour “ruled 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.”82 It is clear that the policy-makers and politicians were not enthusiastic about the non-white immigration and at best passively tolerated it.83 Their decision was dictated rather by political considerations and was a kind of compromise in order to get along with the Old Commonwealth, which was the priority of the foreign affairs.

Irrespectively of the real causes of this legislation, the effect (one could say, the side effect) was the migration of British subjects from around the globe during the 1950s.This was the crucial period in the British immigration history which ensured its multicultural character. The first arrivals were men and women from the British colony of Caribbean islands, mostly Jamaica. Their emigration to the UK was prompted by the weak condition of the Caribbean economy and by the demand for labour which was the cofactor of all immigration waves. Between 1945 and 1959 126 000 Caribbean workers settled in Britain. Other source countries were India and Pakistan: by early 1960 there were up to 100 000 persons of Indian and Pakistani origins in Britain. Many of them found employment in industries with vacancies such as metal manufacture, transport, catering, as well as professional occupations, like in the National Health Service. Britain became also the destination country for people from Malta, Cyprus and China. In those years more than 66 000 immigrants from Malta and Cyprus and 50 000 from China arrived.84

Altogether approximately 500 000 migrants without any relatives in the UK entered the country from 1949 to 1962. It was then that the so-called “coloured” immigration was viewed as a threat to the cultural homogeneity of Britain. The unfavourable social moods towards non-whites existed beyond any doubt from beginning and were expressed openly since the late 1950s.Although the colonial migrants did not come as a part of any governmental programme aiming at reducing the labour shortages, they did fill jobs which were not filled by the Britons. Despite of that, and because of the common racial prejudices, they were almost entirely unwanted both by the state and the population. Social surveys of this period show the public opposition of the majority. Alarmed by the hostility towards newcomers (e.g. famous racial riots in Nottingham and London, which were basically attacks on West Indians and their houses in 1958), politicians sought to hinder the influx. For instance the government obliged every Pakistani entering the UK to make a deposit to cover the cost of their return. The media and some politicians described the ‘coloured’ immigration as a ‘national problem’. A former Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling, put it this way:

“While one talked always and rightly about the need to avoid discrimination between black and white, it is a simple fact of human nature that for the British people there is a great difference between Australians and New Zealanders, for example, who come of British stock, and people from Africa, the Caribbean and the Indian sub-continent who were equally subjects of the Queen and entitled to total equality before the law when established here, but who in appearance, habits, religion and culture, were totally different from us.”85

This statement demonstrates the bipolarity of the British post-colonial policy and immigration attitudes: on the one hand there were citizens of the British Empire who were non-white and though legally equal to others, in reality perceived as a threat, and on the other there were “Old Commonwealth” citizens coming back to the UK. The distinction needed to be shifted from the universal concept of citizenship, which was at first granted in Britain generously, towards one of race. Thus, one of the peculiarities of British immigration history is racialization.

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