In a report published this month by his own think tank, Institute for Global Change, former British prime minister Tony Blair has asked migrants to integrate better with British society. One hopes that Blair has not been duped again, like in 2003, when US President George Bush, according to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s words, had “duped” him into backing the Iraq war.
A Labour Force Survey in UK for 2017 reveals that across sectors, the migrant imprint has been crucial. In 2017, 38 per cent of taxi drivers, 27 per cent of security guards and related occupations, and 27 per cent of shopkeepers were non-EU foreign-born migrants. It helped to lower wages and kept Britain’s economy competitive. And that’s not new. For instance, the Windrush generation were immigrants invited by the British government between 1948 and 1971 from the Caribbean, when the Empire faced a labour shortage after World War II. At the start of the 2018 football World Cup, the London-based Migration Museum released a graphic which showed that just five players would remain in the England line-up if the first and second-generation immigrants were excluded. Back in 2001, then UK foreign secretary Robin Cook had called the “tikka masala curry” a British national dish because it was “a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences”. The migrant imprint is now visible in music, cinema, cricket and what not.
Blair’s spiel just recalls an old regressiveness: In April 1968, then parliamentarian Enoch Powell, in his infamous “River of Blood” speech, had said Britain was “literally mad” to allow large-scale immigration. Tory politician Norman Tebbit, in 1990, came up with the “Tebbit test” — something that would test the loyalty of British Asians, on the basis of who they supported in international cricket matches. What’s ironic is Blair’s vision for integration comes even as the UK teeters on the edge of a divisive Brexit.