The claim that the UK is a ‘nation of immigrants’ is misleading. For nearly a thousand years there has been relatively little net migration to the UK.
The huge scale of non-British immigration in the past two decades or so (running at over 500,000 per year, of which about 300,000 per annum have been long-term net arrivals) is totally unprecedented in our very long history.
In 1951 less than 4% of the population of England and Wales were foreign-born. This proportion had doubled to 8% by 2001 and nearly doubled again to 15% in 2016. Far from being in our DNA, mass immigration is a very recent phenomenon.
Previous episodes of immigration have been on a relatively small scale by comparison - in the 17th and 18th centuries about 50,000 French Huguenots arrived in Britain over a 40-50 year period.
Jewish refugees fleeing Russia, Eastern Europe and Germany arrived in Britain during the 19th and 20th centuries. Around 200,000 arrived over a 50-year period, averaging 4,000 per year.
The turning point was a major change in policy by the Labour government in the late 1990s. In the 13 years that they were in office, between 1997 and 2010, net migration to the UK by non-Britons totalled over three million.
Since the Conservatives took office in 2010, net migration to the UK by non-Britons has totalled 2.7 million.