Some thoughts on the idea of immigration ‘control’

In 1985, the Commission for Racial Equality published a long awaited report into discrimination within the UK immigration control system. (My colleague, Marinella Marmo, and I have written about the report and its investigation here and here) I have been re-reading it and the government’s response for a paper I am currently writing on the x-raying of migrant children for age assessment purposes, which, after being disregarded as an option by the Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw and the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Henry Yellowlees in 1982, was resurrected as an idea by the UKBA in early 2012 (info via the Immigration Law Practitioner’s Association here). The idea was suspended after a month by the UKBA, but there is still the threat of the plan being further revived in the future.

But on a different matter, I came across this interesting tidbit. The general conclusion of the CRE report was ‘that too great an emphasis has been placed on the operation of the procedures on the detection of bogus applicants, at an unacceptable cost to genuine families and to race relations generally’ (p. 128). The CRE proposed a ‘change of emphasis and attitude underlying the administration of the [immigration control] policy (p. 129). The government response drafted by the Home Office (from a copy held at the Runnymede Trust archives at the Black Cultural Archives in London – RC/RF/1/01/B) disputed this, declaring: ‘Without that firm control the Government would be playing into the hands of those who simply do not want good community relations and are out to make trouble. That would not be in the best interests either of the country as a whole or of the ethnic minority communities.’  The document suggests that this was a ‘sophisticated’ version of the ‘”good for race relations” argument’ and thought it could be used to portray the government as the strict, but fair, middle ground, with the document saying ‘we are protecting you against the NF/SWP’.

That was 1985. Unfortunately both Labour and the Tories still indulge in the same rhetoric. It was disappointing to see while Ed Miliband pursues an anti-cuts agenda in one area to try and claw back some of the 5 million disenchanted former Labour voters, he still seeks to try and win the Conservative (and wider anti-immigration)  vote with his ‘immigrants should speak English’ speech the other week. I would argue that anti-immigration rhetoric from Labour and the idea of maintaining ‘firm control’ will not help them and will only encourage the right. As Paul Foot wrote in his 1969 book, The Rise of Enoch Powell: ‘One of the most constant rules in the history of immigration control is that those demanding controls are encouraged, not silenced, by concessions’.


  1. For anyone interested, I have written two papers on these topics which are in print or near submission at the moment. Marinella Marmo and I have an article on the function and limits of British immigration control in the 1970s coming out in the journal, Historical Research, in the next year or so. I have also written a piece on Labour, immigration and the 2010 election, which should be coming out in an edited collection on social democracy in the UK and Australia eventually. Let me know if you’re interested in reading the draft versions of either of these papers.

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