The prejudicial views we see have too often filtered down into places where nuance and factual discussion are urgently needed, including schools ( Getty )
Throughout history, immigration has been fundamental to our socio-economic and cultural progress. Similarly, fear of what immigrants may take from, rather than bring to, the country remains pervasive – and ongoing debates about immigration continue to be antagonistic and discriminatory.
One hundred years ago, immigration was controlled by the 1905 Aliens Act, which restricted immigration from countries outside the British Empire. The 1948 British Nationality Act changed things – and immigration increased once again – but the negative rhetoric and discriminatory behaviour remained. Now, in a move that feels like it brings us closer to where we were a century ago, albeit with different restrictive categories, the current government has announced plans to impose a points-based system for immigration.
In recent times, the rhetoric has fed the increasing polarisation of political standpoints over what it means to be British and to belong. The use of it to magnify fears and demonise those who are not British born or considered “British enough” was seen acutely in the debates surrounding Brexit. A key underlying issue in these debates is a lack of factual understanding of immigration, damaged by false rhetoric used by elements of the media and in recent years being amplified by the internet and influx of “fake news”. To move forward in a new way, we must acknowledge this rhetoric and its ability to skew people’s perceptions.