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Matt Carr @MattCarr55
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History, as we all know, tends to repeat itself even if it doesn't do so in exactly the same way, and our current 'concerns' about immigration are no exception. These 'concerns' are often presented as a novel response to the new phenomenon of 'mass immigration'. However
Let's go back a while, to the late nineteenth century, when Jews first began to arrive in the UK in larger numbers than before, to escape poverty and antisemitism in the Tsarist empire. These 'economic migrants' as they would now be called, were not welcomed in certain circles.
In 1887, the Conservative MP for Tower Hamlets, Captain Colomb, wondered 'what great states of the world other than Great Britain permit the immigration of destitute aliens without restriction.' Even then, we were a 'soft touch', it seems.
Colomb also wondered 'whether her majesty's government is prevented by any treaty obligations from making such regulations as shall put a stop to the free importation of destitute aliens into the United Kingdom.' These 'destitute aliens' were always understood to be Jews.
This was made clear by William Evans-Gordon, another Tory MP in the East End and one of the founders of the pre-fascist British Brothers League
According to Evans-Gordon: 'East of Aldgate one walks into a foreign town,' where the Englishman lived ' under the constant danger of being driven from his home, pushed out into the streets, not by the natural increase of our own population but by the off-scum of Europe'.
Evans-Gordon was an early incarnation of a long British tradition, that includes Enoch Powell, Farage & Andrew Green of MigrationWatch - the posh Englishman who takes an interest in the British working class on one subject only: immigration.
As always, the Daily Mail was already on the case. In 1900 the Mail was at Southampton, reporting on the arrival of Jewish refugees from the Boer War. The Mail noted: 'There were all kinds of Jews, all manner of Jews. They had breakfasted on board
but they rushed as though starving at the food... These were the penniless refugees and when the relief committee passed by they hid their gold, and fawned and whined, and in broken English asked for money for their train fare.'
So refugees were not real refugees - a trope that has been repeated again and again in recent years. These antisemitic caricatures were not always expressed so overtly. Jews were often depicted euphemistically as 'destitute foreigners'.
Nor were such depictions limited to the British Brothers League or the rightwing press. The Manchester Evening Chronicle celebrated the 1905 Aliens Act - legislation specifically aimed at Jews and designed to meet 'concerns' about immigration at the time. on the grounds that
' the dirty, destitute, diseased, verminous, and criminal foreigner, who dumps himself on our soil and rates simultaneously, shall be forbidden to land.' Note the overlap here between the numbers in that 'rates simultaneously' & the invocation of the 'criminal foreigner.'
No need to say 'Jew' here. . People knew. These racialised perceptions of the 'criminal foreigner' tended to rise in response to outbreaks of criminality/terrorism involving (Jewish) foreigners, such as the 1909 Tottenham Outrage and the 1911 Siege of Sidney Street.
Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, fear and loathing of foreigners also featured in the 'psychological factors' that delayed the construction of the Channel Tunnel from the late nineteenth century onwards
In 1882, General Garnet Wolseley opposed the tunnel project, arguing 'Surely John Bull will not endanger his birth-right, his liberty, his property...simply in order that men and women may cross to and fro between Britain and France without running the risk of sea-sickness?'
And in 1919, a former intelligence officer named Colonel Charles Repington opposed a new plan to build the Channel Tunnel on the grounds that it would lead to the ‘loss of our insularity and the easy access of shoals of aliens upon our shores’.
Repington, like many opponents of the tunnel was concerned about its security implications as an invasion route - and also as an entry route for foreign anarchists and Russian ‘Nihilists’
Repington, like other commentators also worried about the potential influx of Frenchwomen who might bring their lax sexual mores into the nation and lower its moral standards. And who could blame them?
And there were also the men to worry about. What might happen, Repington warned, if ‘shoals of aliens’ came to our shores to breed with our women, thereby ‘Latinizing’ the national ‘stock’?
Such 'psychological factors' all combined to delay the construction of the Channel. Even when it was finally opened in 1994, it did not take long before the Dover Express was railing at the 'illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, bootleggers and the scum of the earth drug smugglers
[that] have targeted our beloved coastline, leaving Dover with 'the backdraft of a nation's human sewage and no cash to wash it down the drain.' This racist rant was aimed primarily at Slovak Roma, but Evans-Gordon would have understood it well.
And this is the point: that xenophobia and racism are constantly changing in the objects of their fear and hatred, even if their underlying assumptions about who 'we' are and should be, remain essentially the same. For the last few decades we have been bombarded as a nation
by anti-immigrant and anti-foreigner rhetoric, whether aimed at EU citizens, Roma, Muslims, refugees or asylum-seekers. It is simply inconceivable to imagine Brexit without this. So it seems fitting to close this thread with a quote from Ford Madox Ford.
In the aftermath of the 1905 Aliens Act, Madox Ford proposed a very different notion of English identity to the prevailing 'concerns' of his day, arguing ' from Britons, from Anglo-Saxons, from Danes, from Normans, from Poitevins,
from Scotch, from Huguenots, from Irish, from Gaels, from modern Germans and from Jews, a people so mixed that there is in it hardly a man who can point to seven generations of purely English blood,
it is almost absurd to use the almost obsolescent word 'race'. These fellows are ourselves.'

And at a time when our PM boasts about having stopped foreigners from coming here as the single great achievement of the last two years, I say Amen to that.
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