Immigrants are not an invading army

Thanks to Chris Dillow, I listened yesterday to the BBC Radio 4 programme “Iconoclasts”, which featured economist and journalist Philippe Legrain speaking about the value of immigration.

Contrary to popular opinion, immigration controls are not part of the natural order. They are a relatively recent addition to Britain’s vast corpus of legislation. It was only a century ago that the state imposed its first entry restrictions, which were designed to keep out “undesirable Jews”.

In the 1950s, the UK began to restrict immigration from its former colonies, and this measure faced stiff opposition from prominent Tories who regarded entry into the country as a fundamental right. Even imperialists can have moral scruples and respect for human dignity, it would seem.

As Legrain says, freedom of movement is a basic human right. The existence of immigration controls is immoral, and detrimental to the economic health of any society. So protectionism be damned; it’s time to scrap all immigration controls. If national cultures require borders in order to survive, then they ain’t worth preserving.

Before Legrain had delivered a word of his argument, programme presenter Edward Stourton challenged the right of his guest to speak about immigration. To paraphrase:

“I put it to you, Monsieur Legrain, that you are a French. What say you?”

Good old-fashioned British wit.