Some people say soothingly that one should relax about this. The whole history of Britain’s population, they assure us, is one of ebb and flow of different peoples and tribal groups. All of these facts are correct, but the way they are presented is thoroughly questionable. Past migrations, of Jews and Jutes, of Celts and Romans, of Angles and Saxons, have never been on anything like the current scale. Around 95% of Britain’s pre-war population had been born here, and the other 5% was mostly made up of English and Scots whose parents had happened to be serving the Empire.
Historically, we have been a country of emigration, not immigration. Ashkenazis entered Western Europe by the tens of thousands, not by the millions. The Normans, although they seized land and power, were a tiny elite. The Dutch who arrived in the 16th Century were, in proportion to the whole population, a much tinier group. Even the 50,000 Huguenots from France only ever amounted to a hundredth of Britain’s total population, and they arrived over a period of 50 years.
Today, immigration adds 1% to Britain’s population every two years, or more than 5% every decade. Inevitably, this has led to changes in the queuing system for council housing, which once kept established working class communities together, but has now been adapted to meet the needs of new arrivals, who have tended to occupy housing units in higher densities and have settled in enclaves, cut off from their neighbours by great walls of ignorance, by impossible language barriers and by a growing, cold dislike. In the south east of England and around the Pennine towns in the north, there are places where people from different racial origins never meet, never talk, never go into each others’ homes. The result is the worst of both worlds: stoking up resentment against foreigners: and stoking up resentment against the authorities. The question that pro-free movement advocates should ask is: will the descendants of today’s huddled masses join the middle class or form a new underclass?
Of course, we have no crystal balls, but leaders with sound judgment on core policies don’t play dice with the fabric of organisational life. We’re lucky to live in a country cautiously built up by our ancestors through institutions like Parliament, the monarchy, Magna Carta, the system of justice and, at a more modest level, the pubs, chapels, local choirs, co-operatives, county regiments, trade unions, local rugby teams, and thousands of other local voluntary clubs and societies. Without a stable population there cannot be the values, habits, understandings and loyalties that enable us to live as we do and perhaps sometimes to act for the benefit of others in less fortunate places.
I chipped in with a comment about the secondary impact of immigration on Wales - the westward shift of the English which is damaging so many Welsh-speaking communities - and which I have blogged here, here , here and here.