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Antony Antoniou – Reform UK Northampton North
Prospective Parliamentary Candidate
(PPC) 2024 General Election

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The History of Immigration to the UK: A Recent Phenomenon

Debunking the “Nation of Immigrants” Myth

The claim that the UK is a ‘nation of immigrants’ is misleading. For nearly a thousand years, there has been relatively little net migration to the UK. The huge scale of non-British immigration in the past two decades (over 500,000 per year, of which about 300,000 per annum have been long-term net arrivals) is unprecedented in our very long history. In 1951, less than 4% of the population of England and Wales were foreign-born. This proportion doubled to 8% by 2001 and nearly doubled again to 15% in 2016. Far from being in our DNA, mass immigration is a very recent phenomenon.

Early Immigration: Small-Scale and Temporary

Previous episodes of immigration have been on a relatively small scale. In the 17th and 18th centuries, about 50,000 French Huguenots arrived over a 40-50 year period. Jewish refugees fleeing Russia, Eastern Europe, and Germany arrived during the 19th and 20th centuries, around 200,000 over a 50-year period, averaging 4,000 per year.

The Turning Point: Labour’s Policy Change in the Late 1990s

The turning point was a major change in policy by the Labour government in the late 1990s. In the 13 years they were in office, between 1997 and 2010, net migration to the UK by non-Britons totalled over three million. Since the Conservatives took office in 2010, net migration by non-Britons has totalled 2.7 million. Today, the non-UK born population stands at 9.4 million.

Pre-Roman Britain: Indigenous Inhabitants

The history of Britain before the Roman invasion is known as pre-history, as we lack written records. However, archaeological and palaeontological evidence shows that the area now known as Britain has been inhabited for almost one million years by small, transient populations of hunters. Britain may only have been continuously inhabited for the last 12,000 years. About 10,000 years ago, the inhabitants began using the land for agriculture, possibly due to migration.

Post-Roman Occupation: Contested Migration Scales

After the Roman Occupation ended, Britain’s population fell markedly, perhaps to as little as 1.25 million. In this period, Britain experienced invasions and settlement by Germanic tribes, but their size and scale are contested. Some historians believe the number of Anglo-Saxons was relatively small, while others argue for large-scale migration. Subsequent Viking invasions may have made up 4%-8% of the total population.

The Middle Ages and Early Modern Period: Modest Migrations

The Middle Ages saw very small migrations, including Jewish people who were later expelled in 1290, and Flemings. England’s rise as a trading power in the sixteenth century arguably marked the start of contemporary migration, but on a small scale. In 1610, it was estimated that only 10,000 of London’s 300,000 people were born abroad.

18th and 19th Centuries: Small Numbers of Migrants

Over the next couple of centuries, small numbers of Europeans, Africans, and Asians came to Britain. It is estimated there were about 10,000-20,000 Africans living in Britain in the eighteenth century, with some outlying estimates of 30,000. Jews returned under the Protectorate (1653–1659), with around 6,000 living in England by 1734 and 15,000-20,000 by 1800.

Early 20th Century: Modest Increases

By the 1901 Census, there were 82,844 Eastern Europeans living in Britain. Small numbers of people came from Asia – perhaps a few hundred at the start of the 20th Century. The 1901 census showed just 387 Chinese nationals. In the eighty years between 1851 and 1931, the population born abroad increased by only about one million.

Post-World War II: Accelerating Immigration

After the Second World War, the pace of immigration increased considerably. Thousands of Poles who had fought for Britain were offered citizenship in 1947, with 162,339 recorded in the 1951 census. Britain also introduced a guest workers scheme enabling large numbers of other Eastern Europeans to come.

The 1948 British Nationality Act and Commonwealth Migration

The 1948 British Nationality Act granted subjects of the British Empire the right to live and work in the UK, primarily intended to strengthen ties with the Dominions. From 1962, tighter restrictions were put in place, but Commonwealth migrants continued to come.

The Modern Era: Unprecedented Levels of Migration

In the late 1990s, the pace and scale of migration increased to an unprecedented level. Between 2001 and 2018, the foreign-born population doubled from 4.6 million to over nine million. This massive upturn was due to deliberate policy changes by the 1997-2010 Labour Government, resulting in 3.6 million net foreign migration during that period.

Continued High Migration Under the Conservatives

Despite pledging to reduce net migration, immigration reached record levels under the Conservatives after 2010. While reforming the non-EU system, EU migration continued beyond UK control, with 2.2 million long-term net migrants arriving since 2010.

The Future of UK Immigration Policy

The UK’s departure from the EU on 31 January 2020 gives the government power to end free movement from the EU. However, the published immigration plan risks significantly increasing work immigration from outside the EU, which should be avoided amid economic shocks and rising unemployment from the Coronavirus lockdown.

Summary

• In 1951, less than 4% of the population of England and Wales were foreign-born
• This increased to 8% by 2001 and 15% by 2016
• Between 1997-2010 under the Labour government, net migration totaled over 3 million
• Since 2010 under the Conservatives, net migration has totaled 2.7 million
• As of 2018/19, the non-UK born population stood at 9.4 million
• In the 80 years from 1851-1931, the foreign-born population increased by only around 1 million
• It then increased by less than 2 million in the 40 years from 1951-1991
• Between 2001-2018, the foreign-born population doubled from 4.6 million to over 9 million
• Total arrivals in 2022 was 1.2 million
• Total arrivals in 2023 was 1.4 million

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