Immigration in the United Kingdom: Challenges and Troubles

One of the most embarrassing public relations snafus for the Labour Party in Great Britain occurred when Prime Minister Gordon Brown was overheard calling a woman a 'bigot' because she had expressed her opposition to all immigration, which she believed was changing the culture and character of the British Isles for the worse (Weisberg 2010). As an island nation, England has been more isolated than Continental Europe from rapid influxes of new populations. Yet, as a nation with many colonies, it has both willingly and unwillingly incorporated new cultures into its own. Still, many Britons today clearly feel powerless in the face of rapid influxes of new immigrants and tensions remain between whites and non-whites, although Great Britain is growing more diverse in its composition.

Class tensions have been rife throughout British history and disenfranchised white members of the working Class who saw themselves as the 'true' Britons have often chafed at any perceived incursions of non-whites into social, political, and economic institutions of power. This is ironic, given that British culture itself is multicultural, ever since the first Viking arrivals on the Isle, the Norman Conquest of 1066, and the incorporation of Scotland and Wales into the UK. Britain's participation in the slave trade also created a population of Black Britons on the mainland as well as in the colonies. Later, "wealthy families brought Indian servants to Britain. Cama and Company became the first Indian merchant to open offices in London and Liverpool. Black and Chinese seamen began putting down the roots of small communities in British ports, not least because they were abandoned there by their employers. Between 1830 and 1850, tens of thousands of Irish arrived in Britain, fleeing poverty at home" ("Short history of immigration," BBC, 2010).

Britain abolished its slave trade and legalized slavery earlier than America, and elected its first non-white MP, Indian Dadabhai Naoroji, to the House of Commons in 1892. However, as anti-immigration sentiment erupted in 1950s so did the rise of racial violence and prejudice. "The Irish were British subjects as were all members of the vast and growing British Empire, and until 1962 there was nothing to prevent anyone with that status from entering and settling in the United Kingdom. This included about a quarter of the human race, especially Indians and Africans as well as Australians and Canadians. Their right to enter and settle in Britain was not curtailed until successive changes to the law in 1962 and 1968. By the 1960s large communities from the West Indies, India and Pakistan were established in London and several industrial cities" (Jupp 2010)

The British government simultaneously tried to restrict entry into Britain, yet also pass more stringent laws condemning racist and anti-discriminatory actions. This was intended to be a balanced policy, although critics said it sent a contradictory message. The policy of outlawing racism and restricting entry has been a standard pattern in Britain. For example, in the 1980s, while condemning the anti-black sentiments behind the Brixton riots, immigration policies were tightened. "As manufacturing declined, work permits were harder to get unless you…