The Twin Causes of ‘Brexit’ – Migration & Asylum:
In 2015, David Cameron and the Conservatives surprisingly won an overall majority of MPs and were able to form a government by themselves. In their Manifesto, they had promised to conduct a renegotiation of the terms of Britain’s membership in the EU, and then ask the electorate in a referendum, whether they accepted these terms and wished Britain to remain in the EU, or whether they wanted to leave.
Now it was not De Gaulle or even the Brussels ‘Eurocrats’ who were asking the question, but the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the ‘Brexiteer’ Conservatives in his cabinet and on the back benches. The people themselves had not asked to be asked, but when they answered at the 2016 Referendum, they decided, by a very narrow majority, that they preferred the vision (some would say a blurred one) of a ‘global’ Britain to the ‘gold-card benefits’ available at the European table it was already sitting at. The Tory rebels’ ‘tenacious attachment’ to ‘bloody-minded liberty’ led, among other factors, to them expressing their desire to detach themselves from the European Union, though it was by no means clear whether they wanted to remain semi-detached or move to a detached property at the very end of the street which as yet had not yet been planned, let alone built. All they had was a glossy prospectus of what may or may not be delivered or even be deliverable.
Looking back to 2002, the same year in which Simon Schama published his BBC series book, The Fate of Empire, the latest census for England and Wales was published. Enumerated and compiled the previous year, it showed the extent to which the countries had changed in the decade since the last census was taken. Douglas Murray, in the first chapter of his book, The Strange Death of Europe, first published in 2017, challenged his readers to imagine themselves back in 2002, speculating about what England and Wales might look like in the 2011 Census. Imagine, he asks us, that someone in our company had projected:
“White Britons will become a minority in their own capital city by the end of this decade and the Muslim population will double in the next ten years.”
How would his readers have reacted in 2002? Would they have used words like ‘alarmist’, ‘scaremongering’, ‘racist’, and ‘Islamophobic’? In 2002, a Times journalist made far less startling statements about likely future immigration, which were denounced by David Blunkett, then Home Secretary (using parliamentary privilege) as bordering on fascism. Yet, however much abuse they received for saying or writing it, anyone offering this analysis would have been proved absolutely right at the end of 2012, when the 2011 Census was published. It proved that only 44.9 per cent of London residents identified themselves as ‘white British’. It also revealed far more significant changes, showing that the number of people living in England and Wales born ‘overseas’ had risen by nearly three million since 2001. In addition, nearly three million people in England and Wales were living in households where not one adult spoke English or Welsh as their primary language.
These were major ethnic and linguistic changes, but there were equally striking findings of changing religious beliefs. The Census statistics showed that adherence to every faith except Christianity was on the rise. Since the previous census, the number of people identifying themselves as Christian had declined from seventy-two per cent to fifty-nine. The number of Christians in England and Wales dropped by more than four million, from thirty-seven million to thirty-three. While the Churches witnessed this collapse in their members and attendees, mass migration assisted a near doubling of worshippers of Islam. Between 2001 and 2011 the number of Muslims in England and Wales rose from 1.5 million to 2.7 million. While these were the official figures, it is possible that they were underestimated, because many newly-arrived immigrants might not have filled in the forms at the beginning of April 2011 when the Census was taken, not yet having a registered permanent residence.
The two local authorities whose populations were growing fastest in England, by twenty per cent in the previous ten years, were Tower Hamlets and Newham in London, and these were also among the areas with the largest non-response to the census, with around one in five households failing to return the forms. Yet the results of the census clearly revealed that mass migration was in the process of altering England completely. In twenty-three of London’s thirty-three boroughs (see map above) ‘white Britons’ were now in the minority. A spokesman for the ONS regarded this as demonstrating ‘diversity’, which it certainly did, but by no means all commentators regarded this as something positive or even neutral. When politicians of all the main parties addressed the census results they greeted them in wholly positive terms.
This had been the ‘orthodox’ political view since in 2007 the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, had spoken with pride about the fact that thirty-five per cent of the people working in London had been born in a foreign country. For years a sense of excitement and optimism about these changes in London and the wider country seemed the only appropriate tone to strike. This was bolstered by the sense that what had happened in the first decade of the twenty-first century was simply a continuation of what had worked well for Britain in the previous three decades. This soon turned out to be a politically-correct pretence, though what was new in this decade was not so much growth in immigration from Commonwealth countries and the Middle East, or from wartorn former Yugoslavia, but the impact of white European migrants from the new EU countries, under the terms of the accession treaties and the freedom of movement provisions of the single market.
Besides the linguistic and cultural factors, there were important economic differences between the earlier and the more recent migrations of Eastern Europeans. After 2004, young, educated Polish, Czech and Hungarian people moved to Britain to earn money to send home or to take home with them in order to acquire relatively cheap, good homes, marry and have children in their rapidly developing countries. And for Britain, as the host country, the economic growth of the 2000s was fuelled by the influx of energetic, skilled and talented people who, working, for example, in the NHS, were also denying their own country their much-needed skills for a period. But the UK government had seriously underestimated the number of these workers who wanted to come to Britain. Ministers suggested that the number arriving would be around twenty-six thousand over the first two years. This turned out to be wildly wrong, and in 2006 a Home Office minister was forced to admit that since EU expansion in 2004, 427,000 people from Poland and seven other new EU nations had applied to work in Britain. If the self-employed were included, he added, then the number might be as high as 600,000. There were also at least an additional thirty-six thousand spouses and children who had arrived, and twenty-seven thousand child benefit applications had been received. Even if most of these turned out to be temporary migrants, they still needed to find houses, schools and various services, including health for the period of their stay.
It has to be remembered, of course, that inward migration was partially offset by the annual outflow of around sixty thousand British people, mainly permanent emigrants to Australia, the United States, France and Spain. By the winter of 2006-07, one policy institute reckoned that there were 5.5 million British people living permanently overseas, nearly ten per cent of Britons, or more than the population of Scotland. In addition, another half a million were living abroad for a significant part of the year. By 2016, the number of ex-pats was estimated to have grown to over ten million. Aside from Europe, the Middle East and Asia were seeing rising ‘colonies’ of expatriate British. A worrying proportion of them were graduates; Britain was believed to be losing one in six of its graduates to emigration. Many others were retired or better-off people looking for a life in the sun, just as many of the newcomers to Britain were young, ambitious and keen to work. Government ministers tended to emphasise these benign effects of immigration, but their critics looked around and asked where all the extra people would go, where they would live, and where their children would go to school, not to mention where the extra hospital beds, road space and local services would come from, and how these would be paid for.
A secondary issue to that of ‘numbers’ was the system for asylum seekers. In 2000, there were thirty thousand failed asylum seekers in the United Kingdom, a third of those who had applied in 1999, when only 7,645 had been removed from the country. It was decided that it was impossible to remove more, and that to try to do so would prove divisive politically and financially costly. Added to this was the extent of illegal immigration, which had caught the ‘eye’ of the British public. There were already criminal gangs of Albanians and Kosovars, operating from outside the EU, who were undermining the legal migration streams from Central-Eastern Europe in the eyes of many. The social service bill for these ‘illegal’ migrants became a serious burden for the Department of Social Security. Towns like Slough protested to the national government about the extra cost of housing, education and other services.
In addition, there was the sheer scale of the migration and the inability of the Home Office’s immigration and nationality department to regulate what was happening, to prevent illegal migrants from entering Britain, to spot those abusing the asylum system in order to settle in Britain and the failure to apprehend and deport people. Large articulated lorries filled with migrants, who had paid over their life savings to be taken to Britain, rumbled through the Channel Tunnel and the ferry ports. A Red Cross camp at Sangatte, near the French entrance to the ‘Chunnel’, was blamed by Britain for exacerbating the problem. By the end of 2002, an estimated 67,000 had passed through the camp to Britain. The then Home Secretary, David Blunkett finally agreed on a deal with the French to close the camp down, but by then many African, Asian and Balkan migrants, believed the British immigration and benefits systems to be easier than those of other EU countries, had simply moved across the continent and waited patiently for their chance to jump aboard a lorry to Britain.
Successive Home Secretaries from Blunkett to John Reid tried to deal with the trade, the latter confessing that his department was “not fit for purpose”. He promised to clear a backlog of 280,000 failed asylum claims, whose seekers were still in the country after five years. The historic Home Office was split up, creating a separate immigration and nationality service. Meanwhile, many illegal immigrants had succeeded in bypassing the asylum system entirely. In July 2005, the Home Office produced its own estimate of the number of these had been over the previous four years. It reckoned that this was between 310,000 and 570,000, or up to one per cent of the total population. A year later, unofficial estimates pushed this number up to 800,000. The truth was that no one really knew, but official figures showed the number applying for asylum was now falling, with the former Yugoslavia returning to relative peace. Thousands of refugees were also being returned to Iraq, though the signs were already apparent that further wars in the Middle East and the impact of global warming on sub-Saharan Africa would soon send more disparate groups across the continents.
To begin with, the arrival of workers from the ten countries who joined the EU in 2004 was a different issue, though it involved an influx of roughly the same size. By the government’s own figures, annual net inward migration had reached 185,000 and had averaged 166,000 over the previous seven years. This was significantly more than the average net inflow of fifty thousand New Commonwealth immigrants which Enoch Powell (pictured below) had referred to as ‘literally mad’ in his 1968 Rivers of Blood speech, though he had been criticising the immigration of East African Asians, of course. But although Powell’s speech was partly about race, colour and identity, it was also about the numbers of immigrants and the practical concerns of his Wolverhampton constituents in finding hospital and school places in an overstretched public sector. These concerns persisted, though they were largely ignored by senior politicians.
It seems not unreasonable, and not at all racist, to suggest that it is the duty of the central government to predict and provide for the number of newcomers it permits to settle in the country, though until 2015 this was largely left to local authorities, which were already struggling with centrally-imposed austerity cut-backs. In 2006, the Projections based on many different assumptions suggested that the UK population would grow by more than seven million by 2031. Of that increase, eighty per cent would be due to migration. The organisation, Migration Watch UK, set up to campaign for tighter immigration controls, said this was equivalent to requiring the building of a new town the size of Cambridge each year, or five new cities the size of Birmingham over the predicted quarter century.
But such characterisations were, in fact, caricatures of the situation since many of these new Eastern European migrants did not intend to settle permanently in the UK and could be expected to return to their countries of origin in due course. This eventually came to pass, after the UK finally left the EU in 2019 and during the subsequent Covid19 pandemic. However, before that happened, the massive underestimations of the scale of the inward migration were, of course, obvious to anybody with any knowledge of the history of post-war migration, replete with vast underestimates of the numbers expected. But it did also demonstrate that immigration control was simply not a priority for New Labour or the Con-Libs. They gave the impression that they regarded all immigration control, and even discussion of it, as inherently ‘racist’, which made any internal or external opposition to it hard to voice. The public response to the massive upsurge in immigration and to the swift transformation of parts of Britain it had not really reached before, was exceptionally tolerant. There were no significant or sustained outbreaks of racist abuse or violence before 2016, and the only racist political party, the British National Party (BNP) was subsequently destroyed, especially in London.
In April 2006, Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP for Barking since 1996 (pictured right), commented in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph that eight out of ten white working-class voters in her constituency might be tempted to vote for the British National Party (BNP) in the local elections on 4 May 2006 because “no one else is listening to them” about their concerns over unemployment, high house prices and the housing of asylum seekers in the area. She said the Labour Party must promote…
“… very, very strongly the benefits of the new, rich multi-racial society which is part of this part of London for me”.
There was widespread media coverage of her remarks, and Hodge was strongly criticised for giving the BNP publicity. The BNP went on to gain 11 seats in the local election out of a total of 51, making them the second-largest party on the local council.
It was reported that Labour activists accused Hodge of generating hundreds of extra votes for the BNP and some local Labour members began to privately discuss the possibility of a move to deselect her. The GMB union wrote to Hodge in May 2006, demanding her resignation. The then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, later accused Hodge of “magnifying the propaganda of the BNP” after she said that British residents should get priority in council house allocations. In November 2009, the Leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin, announced that he intended to contest Barking at the 2010 general election, which saw New Labour finally defeated under Gordon Brown’s leadership. In spite of the union’s position, Hodge was returned as MP for Barking, doubling her majority to over 16,000, while Griffin came third behind the Conservatives. The BNP subsequently lost all of its seats on Barking and Dagenham Council.
Opinion polls and the simple, anecdotal evidence of living in the country showed that most people continued to feel no personal animosity towards immigrants or people of different ethnic backgrounds. But poll after poll also showed that a majority were deeply worried about what ‘all this’ migration meant for the country and its future. But even the mildest attempts to put these issues on the political agenda, such as the concerns raised by Margaret Hodge, were often met with condemnation from the established Labour left, especially in London, with the result that there was still no serious public discussion of them. Perhaps successive governments of all hues had spent decades putting off any real debate on immigration because they suspected that the public disagreed with them and that it was a matter they had lost control over anyway. This was done through charges of ‘racism’ and ‘bigotry’, such as the accidental ‘caught-on-mike’ remark made by Gordon Brown while getting into his car in the 2010 election campaign, when confronted by one of his own Labour councillors in a northern English town about the sheer numbers of migrants. It is said to have represented a major turning point in the campaign.
A series of deflecting tactics became a replacement for action in the wake of the 2011 census, including the remark that the public should ‘just get over it’, which came back to haunt David Cameron’s ministers in the 2016 Referendum campaign. Even Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, in his Daily Telegraph column of December 2012, titled Let’s not dwell on immigration but sow the seeds of integration, responded to the census results by writing…
We need to stop moaning about the dam-burst. It’s happened. There is nothing we can now do except make the process of absorption as eupeptic as possible …
It did not seem to have occurred to Johnson that there were those who might be nursing a sense of righteous indignation about the fact that for years all the main parties had taken decisions that were so at variance with the opinions of their electors, or that there was something profoundly disenfranchising about such decisions, especially when addressed to a majority of the voting public. In the same month as Johnson’s admonition, a poll by YouGov found two-thirds of the British public believed that immigration over the previous decade had been a ‘bad thing for Britain’. Only eleven per cent thought it had been a ‘good thing’. This included majorities among supporters of all three main parties. Finally, the leaders of all three parties conceded that immigration was indeed too high. But none had any clear or proven policy on how to change course. By 2015, public opinion surveys were suggesting that a failure to do anything about immigration even while talking about it was one of the key areas of the breakdown in trust between the electorate and their political representatives.
At the same time, the coalition government of 2010-15 was fearful of the attribution of base motives if it got ‘tough on immigrants’. The Conservative leadership was trying to reposition itself as more socially ‘liberal’ under David Cameron. Nevertheless, at the election, they had promised to cut immigration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands per year, but they never succeeded in getting near that target. To show that she meant ‘business’, however, in 2013, Theresa May’s Home Office organised a number of vans with advertising hoardings to drive around six London boroughs where many illegal immigrants and asylum seekers lived. The posters on the hoardings read, In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest, followed by a government helpline number. The posters became politically toxic immediately. The Labour Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, described them as “divisive and disgraceful” and the campaign group Liberty branded them “racist and illegal”.
After some months it was revealed that the pilot scheme had successfully persuaded only eleven illegal immigrants to leave the country voluntarily. Theresa May admitted that the scheme had been a mistake and too “blunt”. Indeed, it was a ‘stunt’ designed to reassure the ‘native’ population that their government was getting tough, and it was not repeated, but the overall ‘hostile environment’ policy it was part of continued into the next majority Conservative government after the 2015 election, leading to the illegal deportation of hundreds of ‘Windrush generation’ migrants from the Caribbean who had settled in Britain before 1968 and therefore lacked passports and papers identifying them as British subjects. In fact, under Cameron’s Conservative government, net immigration reached a record level of 330,000 per year, numbers which would fill a city the size of Coventry. The movement of people, even before the European migration crisis of 2015, was of an entirely different quantity, quality and consistency from anything that the British Isles had experienced before, even in the postwar period. Yet the ‘nation of immigrants’ mythology continued to be used to cover the vast changes of recent years and to pretend that history could be used to provide precedents for what had happened since the turn of the millennium.
Brexit – The Turning of the Tide for British Tolerance?
Following the 2011 Census, net migration into Britain continued to be far in excess of three hundred thousand per year. The further rise in the population of the United Kingdom recorded in 2021 was almost entirely due to inward migration, and higher birth rates among the predominantly young migrant population. In 2014 women who were born overseas accounted for twenty-seven per cent of all live births in England and Wales, and a third of all newborn babies had at least one overseas-born parent, a figure that had doubled since the 1990s. However, since the 2016 Brexit vote, statistics have shown that many recent migrants to Britain from the EU have been returning to their home countries so it is difficult to know, as yet, how many of these children will grow up in Britain, or for how long. But based on the increases projected by the Office for National Statistics in 2017, Douglas Murray asks the following rhetorical questions of the leaders of the mainstream political parties:
All these years on, despite the name-calling and the insults and the ignoring of their concerns, were your derided average white voters not correct when they said that they were losing their country? Irrespective of whether you think that they should have thought this, let alone whether they should have said this, said it differently or accepted the change more readily, it should at some stage cause people to pause and reflect that the voices almost everybody wanted to demonise and dismiss were in the final analysis the voices whose predictions were nearest to being right.
One might retort with the observation that Murray seems to lay too much emphasis on the ‘average white voter’ and hints at the need for a policy based on reversing what he seems to see as the ‘racial replacement’ of the previous half-century. In the 2016 Referendum Campaign, the UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) campaign also seemed to confuse the question of asylum seekers with that of freedom of movement within EU borders by using the following photo, taken in 2015, on one of the eastern external borders:
Indeed, the issue of immigration as it affected the 2016 Referendum in Britain was largely about the numbers of Eastern European migrants arriving in the country, rather than about illegal immigrants from outside the EU, or asylum seekers. Inevitably, all three issues became confused in the public mind, something that UKIP used to good effect in its campaigning posters. The original version of the poster above, featuring UKIP leader Nigel Farage, caused considerable controversy by using pictures from the 2015 Crisis in Central-Eastern Europe to suggest that Europe was at a ‘Breaking Point’ and that once in the EU, refugees and migrants would be able to enter Britain and settle there. This was untrue, as the UK was not, in any case, in the ‘Schengen’ area, as shown by the map below. Campaigners against ‘Brexit’ pointed out the facts of the situation in the adapted photo on the internet.
In addition, during the campaign, Eastern European leaders, including the Poles and the Hungarians, complained about the misrepresentation of their citizens as ‘immigrants’ like many of those who had recently crossed the EU’s Balkan borders in order to get to Germany or Sweden. As far as they were concerned, their citizens were temporary internal migrants within the EU’s arrangements for ‘freedom of movement’ between member states. Naturally, because this was largely a one-way movement in numeric terms, this distinction was lost on many voters, however, as ‘immigration’ became the dominant factor in their backing of Brexit. On 23rd June 2016, the UK electorate, with a turnout of 72%, voted by a margin of 52% to 48% to leave the EU. Leave won the majority of votes in England and Wales, while every council in Scotland saw Remain majorities, and Northern Ireland voted to remain by 56% to 44%.(https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/politics/eu_referendum/results)
An Ipsos poll published after the referendum result was declared, in July 2016, surveyed public attitudes towards immigration across Europe. It revealed just how few people thought that immigration had had a beneficial impact on their societies. To the question – Would you say that immigration has generally had a positive or negative impact on your country? – very low percentages of people in each country thought that it had had a positive effect. In fact, Britain had a comparatively positive attitude, with thirty-six per cent of people saying that they thought it had had a very or fairly positive impact. Meanwhile, only twenty-four per cent of Swedes felt the same way and just eighteen per cent of Germans. In Italy, France and Belgium only ten to eleven per cent of the population thought that it had made even a fairly positive impact on their countries. Despite the Referendum result, the British result may well have been higher because, despite UKIP’s posters, Britain had not experienced the same level of immigration from outside the EU as had happened in the inter-continental migration crisis of the previous summer.
In Britain, the issue of Calais remained the foremost one in discussion in the autumn of 2016. The British government announced that it was going to have to build a further security wall near the large migrant camp there. The one-kilometre wall was designed to further protect the entry point to Britain, and specifically to prevent migrants from trying to climb onto passing lorries on their way to the UK. Given that there were fewer than 6,500 people in the camp most of the time, a solution to Calais always seemed straightforward to some. All that was needed, argued these activists and politicians, was a one-time generous offer and the camp could be cleared. But the reality was that once the camp was cleared it would simply be filled again. For 6,500 was an average day’s migration to Italy alone.
In the meantime, while the British and French governments argued over who was responsible for the situation at Calais, both day and night migrants threw missiles at cars, trucks and lorries heading to Britain in the hope that the vehicles would stop and they could climb aboard as stowaways for the journey across the Channel. The migrants who ended up in Calais had already broken all the EU’s rules on asylum in order to get there. They had not applied for asylum in their first country of entry, Greece, nor even in Hungary. Instead, they pushed on through the national borders of the ‘Schengen’ free passage area (see map above) until they reached the north of France. If they were cold, poor or just worse off, they were seen as having the right to come and settle in a European Union that seemed no longer to have the heart, and/or will, to turn anyone away.
The Disintegration of Multiculturalism in Britain:
After the 9/11 attacks on the USA, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the 7/7 London bombings, there was no bigger cultural challenge to the British sense of proportion and fairness than the threat of ‘militant Islam’ or rather ‘Islamist‘ terrorism. There were plenty of angry young Muslim men prepared to listen to fanatical ‘imams’ and to act on their narrow-minded and bloodthirsty interpretations of ‘Jihad’. Their views, at odds with those of the well-established south Asian Muslim communities in Britain, referred to above, were those of the ultra-conservative ‘Wahhabi’ Arabs and Iranian mullahs who insisted, for example, on women being fully veiled. But some English politicians, like Norman Tebbit, felt justified in asking whether all Muslim communities throughout Britain really wanted to fully integrate. Would they, in Tebbit’s notorious ‘test’, support the English Cricket team when it played against Pakistan?
Britain did not have as high a proportion of Muslims as France, and not many, outside London and parts of the South East, were of Arab and North African origin. But the large urban centres of the Home Counties, the English Midlands and the North of England had third-generation Muslim communities of hundreds of thousands. They felt like they were being watched in a new way and were perhaps right to feel more than a little uneasy. In the old industrial towns on either side of the Pennines and in areas of West London there were such strong concentrations of Muslims that the word ‘ghetto’ was being used by ministers and civil servants, not just, as in the seventies and eighties, by right-wing organisations and politicians. White working-class people had long been moving, quietly, to more semi-rural commuter towns in the Home Counties and on the South Coast, and in the cities of the Midlands, like Birmingham, to the ‘suburbs’.
But those involved in this ‘white flight’, as it became known, were a minority if polling was an accurate guide, and their motives for leaving the inner city areas were often complicated, not linked to ‘race’ or culture. Only a quarter of Britons said that they would prefer to live in white-only areas. In retrospect, this may seem to be a significant minority. Yet even this measure of tolerance or ‘multiculturalism’, colloquially defined as ‘live and let live’, was being questioned. How much should the new Britons ‘integrate’ or ‘assimilate’, and how much was the retention of traditions a matter of their rights to a distinctive cultural identity? After all, Britain had a long heritage of allowing newcomers to integrate on their own terms, retaining customs and contributing elements of their own culture. Speaking in December 2006, Blair cited forced marriages, the importation of ‘sharia’ law and the ban on women entering certain mosques as being on the wrong side of this line. In the same speech he used new, harder language. He claimed that, after the London bombings, …
“… for the first time in a generation there is an unease, an anxiety, even at points a resentment that out very openness, our willingness to welcome difference, our pride in being home to many cultures, is being used against us … Our tolerance is what makes is part of what makes Britain, Britain. So conform to it; or don’t come here. We don’t want the hate-mongers … If you come here lawfully, we welcome you. If you are permitted to stay here permanently, you become an equal member of our community and become one of us.”
His speech was not just about security and the struggle against terrorism. He was defining the duty to integrate. Britain’s strong economic growth over the previous two decades, despite its weaker manufacturing base, was partly the product of its long tradition of hospitality. The question now was whether the country was becoming so overcrowded that this tradition of tolerance was finally eroding. England, in particular, had the highest population density of any major country in the Western world. It would require wisdom and frankness from politicians together with watchfulness and efficiency from Whitehall to keep the ship on an even keel. Without these qualities and trust from the people, how can we hope for meaningful interactions between Muslims, Christians, Jews and Humanists?; between newcomers, sojourners, old-timers and exiles?; between white Europeans, black Africans, south Asians and West Indians?
In January 2011, a gang of nine Muslim men, seven of Pakistani heritage and two from North Africa, were convicted and sentenced at the Old Bailey in London for the sex trafficking of children between the ages of eleven and fifteen. One of the victims sold into a form of modern-day slavery was a girl of eleven who was branded with the initials of her ‘owner’ and abuser: ‘M’ for Mohammed. The court heard that he had branded her to make her his property and to ensure others knew about it. This did not happen in a Saudi or Pakistani backwater, nor even in one of the northern English towns that so much of the country had forgotten about until similar crimes involving Pakistani heritage men were brought to light. This happened in Oxfordshire between 2004 and 2012. Nobody could argue that gang rape and child abuse were the preserve of immigrants, but these court cases and the official investigations into particular types of child-rape gangs, especially in the case of Rotherham, have identified specific cultural attitudes towards women, especially non-Muslim women, that are similar to those held by men in parts of Pakistan. These have sometimes been extended into intolerant attitudes toward other religions, ethnic groups and sexual minorities. But they are cultural attitudes which are anathema to the teachings of the Qu’ran and mainstream Imams, but fears of being accused of ‘racism’ for pointing out such factual connections had been at least partly responsible for these cases taking years to come to light.
British Muslims and members of the British-Pakistani community condemned both the abuse and that it had been covered up. Nazir Afzal (pictured below), Chief Crown Prosecutor of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for North West England from 2011–2015, himself a Muslim, made the decision in 2011 to prosecute the Rochdale child sex abuse ring after the CPS had turned the case down. Responding to the Jay report, he argued that the abuse had no basis in Islam:
“Islam says that alcohol, drugs, rape and abuse are all forbidden, yet these men were surrounded by all of these things. … It is not the abusers’ race that defines them. It is their attitude toward women that defines them.”
Even then, however, in the Oxfordshire case, the gangs were described as ‘Asian’ by the media, rather than as men of Pakistani and Arabic origin or heritage. In addition, the fact that their victims were chosen because they were not Muslim was rarely mentioned in court or dwelt upon by the press. But despite sections of the media beginning to focus on Pakistani men preying on young white girls, a 2013 report by the UK Muslim Women’s Network found that British Asian girls were also being abused across the country in situations that mirrored the abuse in Rotherham. The unfunded small-scale report found thirty-five cases of young Muslim girls of Pakistani heritage being raped and passed around for abuse by multiple men. In the report, one local Pakistani women’s group described how Pakistani-heritage girls were targeted by taxi drivers and on occasion by older men lying in wait outside school gates at dinner times and after school. They also cited cases in Rotherham where Pakistani landlords had befriended Pakistani women and girls on their own for purposes of sex, then passed on their name to other men who had then contacted them for sex.
The Jay Report, published in 2014, acknowledged that the 2013 report of abuse of south Asian-heritage girls was ‘virtually identical’ to the abuse that occurred in Rotherham, and also acknowledged that British Asian girls were unlikely to report their abuse due to the repercussions on their family. South Asian girls were ‘too afraid to go to the law’ and were being blackmailed into having sex with different men while others were forced at knife-point to perform sexual acts on men. Support workers described how one teenage girl had been gang-raped at a ‘party’ her ‘boyfriend’ had taken her to:
“When she got there, there was no party, there were no other female members present. What she found was that there were five adults, their ages ranging between their mid-twenties going on to the late-forties and the five men systematically, routinely, raped her. And the young man who was supposed to be her boyfriend stood back and watched”.
Groups would photograph the abuse and threaten to publish it to their fathers, brothers, and in the mosques, if their victims went to the police.
In June 2013, the polling company ComRes carried out a poll for BBC Radio 1 asking a thousand young British people about their attitudes towards the world’s major religions. The results were released three months later and showed that of those polled, twenty-seven per cent said that they did not trust Muslims (compared with 15% saying the same of Jews, 13% of Buddhists, and 12% of Christians). More significantly, perhaps, forty-four per cent said that they thought Muslims did not share the same views or values as the rest of the population. The BBC and other media in Britain then set to work to try to discover how Britain could address the fact that so many young people thought this way.
Part of the answer may have had something to do with the timing of the poll, the fieldwork being carried out between 7-17 June. It had only been a few weeks before this that Drummer Lee Rigby, a young soldier on leave from Afghanistan, had been hit by a car in broad daylight outside an army barracks in South London, dragged into the middle of the road and hacked to death with machetes. The two murderers, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale identified as Muslims of African origin who were carrying letters claiming justification for killing “Allah’s enemies”. It’s therefore reasonable to suppose that, rather than making assumptions about a religious minority without any evidence, those who were asked their opinions connected Muslims with a difference in basic values because they had been very recently associated with an act of extreme violence on the streets of London.
Unfortunately, attempts to provide a more balanced view and to separate these acts of terrorism from Islam have been dwarfed by the growing public perception of a problem which will not simply go away through the repetition of ‘mantras’. The internet has provided multiple and diverse sources of information, but the simple passage of the various events related above, and the many others available examples, meant that people were able to make their own judgements, and they were certainly not as favourable as they had been at the start of the current century. By 2015, one poll showed that only thirty per cent of the general public in Britain thought that the values of Islam were ‘compatible’ with the values of British society. The passage of terrorist events on the streets of Europe continued through 2016 and 2017.
On 22 March 2017, a 52-year-old British-born convert to Islam, Khalid Masood, ploughed his car across Westminster Bridge, killing two tourists, one American and the other Romanian, and two British nationals. Dozens more were injured as they scattered, some falling into the River Thames below. Crashing into the railings at the side of Parliament, Masood then ran out of the hired vehicle and through the gates of the palace, where he stabbed the duty policeman, PC Keith Palmer, who died a few minutes later. Masood was then shot dead by armed police, his last phone messages revealing that he believed he was “waging jihad.” Two weeks later, at an inter-faith Service of Hope at Westminster Abbey, its Dean, the Very Reverend John Hall, spoke for a nation he described as ‘bewildered’:
What could possibly motivate a man to hire a car and take it from Birmingham to Brighton to London, and then drive it fast at people he had never met, couldn’t possibly know, against whom he had no personal grudge, no reason to hate them and then run at the gates of the Palace of Westminster to cause another death? It seems that we shall never know.
Then on 22 May thousands of young women and girls were leaving a concert by the US pop singer Ariana Grande at Manchester Arena. Waiting for them as they streamed out was Salman Abedi, a twenty-two-year-old British-born man, whose Libyan parents had arrived in the UK in the early nineties after fleeing from the Gadaffi régime. In the underground foyer, Abedi detonated a bomb he was carrying which was packed with nuts, bolts and other shrapnel. Twenty-two people, children and parents who had arrived to pick them up, were killed instantly. Hundreds more were injured, many of them suffering life-changing wounds.
Next in what began to seem like a remorseless series of events, on 3 June three men drove a van into pedestrians crossing London Bridge. They leapt out of it and began slashing at the throats of pedestrians, appearing to be targeting women in particular. They then ran through the Borough Market area shouting “this is for Allah”. Eight people were murdered and many more were seriously injured before armed police shot the three men dead. Two of the three, all of whom were aged twenty to thirty, were born in Morocco. The oldest of them, Rachid Redouane, had entered Britain using a false name, claiming to be a Libyan and was actually five years older than he had pretended. He had been refused asylum and had absconded. Khurram Butt had been born in Pakistan and arrived in the UK as a ‘child refugee’ in 1998 when his family moved to the UK to claim asylum from ‘political oppression’, although Pakistan was not on the UNHCR list of ‘unsafe’ countries. On the evening of 19 June, at end of the Muslim sabbath, in what appeared to be a ‘reprisal’, a forty-seven-year-old father of four from Cardiff drove a van into crowds of worshippers outside Finsbury Park Mosque who were crossing the road to go to the nearby Muslim Welfare House. One man, who had collapsed on the road and was being given emergency aid, was run over and died at the scene. Almost a dozen more were injured.
Up to this point, all the Islamist terror attacks, from 7/7/2005 onwards, had been planned and carried out by ‘home-grown’ terrorists. Even the asylum seekers involved in the June attack in London had been in the country since well before the 2015 migration crisis. But in mid-September, an eighteen-year-old Iraqi who arrived in the UK illegally in 2015, and had been living with British foster parents ever since, left a crudely-manufactured bomb on the London Underground District line during rush hour when the carriages were also crowded with schoolchildren. The detonator exploded but failed to ignite the homemade device itself, leading to flash burns to the dozens of people in the carriage. A more serious blast would have led to those dozens being taken away in body bags, and many more injured in the stampede which would have followed at the station exit with its steep steps. As it was, the passengers remained calm during their evacuation.
Of course, it would have been difficult to predict and prevent any of these attacks, either by erecting physical barriers or by identifying individuals who might be at risk from ‘radicalisation’, much of which takes place online. Most of the attackers had been born and radicalised in the UK, so no reinforcements at the borders, either in Calais or Kent would have kept them from enacting their atrocities. But the need for secure borders is not simply a symbolic or psychological reinforcement for the British people if it is combined with a workable and efficient asylum policy. We are repeatedly told that one of the two main reasons for the 2016 referendum decision for Britain to leave the EU was in order to take back control of its borders and immigration policy, though it was never demonstrated how exactly it had lost control of these, or at least how EU membership had made it lose control over them.
‘Globule’ Britain, Exceptionalism & the Globalisation of Populism:
By 2017, there were already signs that, due to the fall in the value of the pound since the Referendum, many Central-Eastern European migrants were returning to their home countries, but the vast majority of them had already declared that they did not intend to settle permanently in the UK anyway. The fact that so many came from 2004 onwards was entirely down to the decision of the British government not to delay or derogate the operation of the accession treaties. But, after ‘Brexit’ was finally done in 2019, the reality remained that, even if they were to be replaced by other European ‘immigrants’ in future, the UK would still need to control, as ever, the immigration of people from outside the EU, including asylum seekers, and that returning failed or bogus applicants would become more difficult. So, too, would the sharing of intelligence information about any potential threats of terrorists attempting to enter Britain as bogus refugees. Other than these considerations, the home-grown threat from Islamist terrorists was unlikely to be affected by Brexit one way or another, and could only be dealt with by anti-radicalisation strategies, especially through education and more active inter-cultural community relations aimed at full integration, not ‘parallel’ development.
Since the Brexit referendum in 2016 and the election of Donald Trump, it seemed that ‘gutter’ journalists, the ‘global media’, especially ‘social media,’ just couldn’t get enough of Populism in the form of tropes and memes. In 1998, the Guardian alone published about three hundred articles that contained the term. In 2015, it was used in about a thousand articles, and one year later this number had doubled to almost two thousand. Populist parties across Europe have tripled their vote in Europe over the past twenty years and more than a quarter of Europeans voted for populists in their last elections. So, in deciding to leave the EU, the British were, ironically, not demonstrating how exceptional they were, but becoming more like their transcontinental European and American allies and partners in supporting nativist, populist and extremist policies and parties.
The Green & Pleasant Land under siege:
But, in reality, the biggest threat that Britain faced was not from the Brussels Eurocracy, nor from immigration. It was the threat of climate change, a physical threat rather than a demographic one, waves of water, not people. It promised to reshape the outline of Britain, as seen from space or on any map. Nothing was more sensitive to the British people than the shape of their island. Rising sea levels could make its entire coastline look different. They could eat into East Anglia, centuries after the wetlands were reclaimed with Dutch drainage, and submerge the concrete-crusted, terraced marshlands around London, and drown idyllic Scottish islands, forcing the abandonment of coastal towns which had grown up in Victorian and Edwardian times. Long-established wildlife would die out and be replaced by new species – these were already making their presence known in British gardens. All this was beyond the power of Britain to control alone since it was responsible for just two per cent of global emissions. Even if the British could be persuaded to give up their larger cars, their foreign holidays and their gadgets, would it make a real difference?
In 2009, Andrew Marr concluded, somewhat prophetically:
Without a frank, unheated conversation between the rest of us and elected politicians, who are then sent out into the the world to do the bigger deals that must be done, what hope for action on climate change? It seems certain to involve the loss of new liberties, such as cheap, easy travel. It will change the countryside as grim-looking wind farms appear. It will change how we light and heat our homes and how we are taxed. All these changes are intensely political, in a way the British of the forties would have recognised. Politics is coming back as a big force in our lives, like it or not. …
Without this frankness, what help is there for a sensible settlement between Muslim and Christian, incomer and old timer?
… The threats facing the British are large ones. But in the years since 1945, having escaped nuclear devastation, tyranny and economic collapse, we British have no reason to despair, or emigrate. In global terms, to be born British remains a wonderful stroke of luck.Andrew Marr (2007-9), A History of Modern Britain pp. 601-2.
Postscript – The Last Years, Platinum Jubilee & A Royal Tribute:
Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Commonwealth of Nations celebrated HM The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee (70th Anniversary of her Accession to the throne) for four days in June. Queen Elizabeth turned ninety-six on 21st April 2022. She had witnessed many triumphs and tragedies since she became heir to the throne, at the age of ten in 1936, becoming Princess Elizabeth, and turned twenty-one in 1947 when, in a radio broadcast, she told the Kingdom and the Commonwealth:
‘I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.’
She successfully adapted to a rapidly changing world from 1952, when there was no TV, to the digital age of the Internet. Her influence and inspiration are far-reaching, and she has definitely earned every ounce of love and respect she received during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations. She was nearly never late for anything or anyone and was extremely courteous and respectful towards everyone, no matter what their position was. She considered tardiness a sign of disrespect and her deep respect for her employees was manifested in the way she treated all twelve hundred of them. She never saw them as ‘servants’ and never called them when they were off-duty since she valued their privacy and family life as much as her own. She had a tremendous memory for detail and a great deal of compassion for each individual in her family and the royal household.
She exuded a serene authority, Majesty and calmness in the faithful conduct of her duties and frequently expresses her faith in God. Although she never attended university, she was well educated and served as a confidante to seventeen Prime Ministers from Winston Churchill to Elizabeth Truss. Her charities and patronages deal with a wide range of social problems from youth opportunities to wildlife and environmental protection. Her Majesty balanced all her public responsibilities with a full family life, raising four children, and welcoming grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The four-day UK bank holiday weekend culminated in a series of magnificent activities held across the country, but especially in central London, to commemorate Her Majesty’s extraordinary milestone. The Trooping of the Colours, comprising fifteen hundred soldiers and commanders, four hundred musicians, 250 horses and seventy aeroplanes, kicked off the festivities. Across the country, large jubilee street parties were held, with people coming together to honour the Queen and their local communities. As part of the Jubilee celebrations, a pageant was staged in the Mall on Sunday 5th June, bringing together five thousand people from across the UK and the Commonwealth, to commemorate the Queen’s reign. It included street art, music, puppets and costume.
The bells of Westminster Abbey pealed as they did on Coronation Day, 1953. The Gold Ste Coach, pulled by eight Windsor Grey horses was led by the mounted band of the Household Cavalry. There were four acts in the pageant. The first was led by the featured a military march with 1,750 participants and two hundred horses. The second depicted changes in culture, music and fashion during the last seven decades. The third act told the story of the Queen’s life in twelve chapters, and Ed Sheeran sang ‘God Save the Queen’ in the fourth act. The Queen watched the finale of the pageant from the balcony of the Palace where she was joined by three generations of her family.
Elsewhere, a new underground line called the Elizabeth Line was inaugurated, operating twelve trains per hour between Paddington and Abbey Wood. Queen Elizabeth’s portraits were projected onto the standing stones of Stonehenge, each picture from one of the seven decades of her reign. A twelve-foot-tall floral crown was installed in St James’ Park, sparkling with the brilliant blooms of 13,500 plants in the colours of the precious stones in the crown worn on Coronation Day. The Queen also surprised and delighted millions of viewers by appearing in a special comic sketch filmed in the Palace with Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear to start the Jubilee Concert outside. The Queen and Paddington engaged in dialogue about their mutual love of marmalade sandwiches. As the long weekend’s events drew to a close, the Queen issued a statement:
“When it comes to how to mark seventy years as your Queen, there is no guidebook to follow. It really is a first. But I have been humbled and deeply touched that so many people have taken to the streets to celebrate my Platinum Jubilee. While I may not have attended every event in person, my heart has been with you all; and I remain committed to serving you to the best of my ability, supported by my family. I have been inspired by the kindness, joy and kinship that has been so evident in recent days, and I hope this renewed sense of togetherness will be felt for many years to come…”
Over the next few months, as the Queen’s health became increasingly more fragile, Prince Charles stepped up to cover duties. He had already become known as a thoughtful and caring champion of a wide range of worthy causes, as well as a hardworking, dutiful Prince and a kind, humourous man, happy to meet and chat with the public in the streets. After the Queen’s death, dealing with his own grief, supported by Camilla, the Queen Consort, he steadfastly followed his mother’s coffin, dutifully fulfilling all the ceremonial roles and providing comfort to vast numbers of the Queen’s mourning subjects. At his address to the Accession Council on 9th September, he pledged:
“… throughout the remaining time God grants me to uphold the constitutional principles at the heart of our nation.”
Douglas Murray (2018), The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam. London: Bloomsbury.
Simon Schama (2002), A History of Britain III: 1776-2000, The Fate of Empire. London: BBC Worldwide.
Andrew Marr (2009), A History of Modern Britain. London: Pan Macmillan.
John Morrill (ed.), (2001), The Penguin Atlas of British and Irish History. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
Previous articles on the web:
Igloobooks.com (2013), The History of Britain. Sywell, NN6 OBJ: Igloo Books Ltd.
Christine Lindop (2013), Factfiles: William and Kate. Oxford: OUP (Oxford Bookworms Library):