Hostility to immigration in Britain was a significant force driving the vote to leave the European Union, yet prominent Brexiteers are often sensitive to the charge that any part of their movement is inward-looking, xenophobic or racist. Many of them have recently rushed to condemn the treatment of the Windrush generation. Even the Daily Mail, a newspaper that regularly publishes scare stories about immigrants, splashed it on the front page as “Fiasco that shames Britain.”
Yet this is not an accidental fiasco but the intended outcome of Britain’s draconian and Byzantine immigration policy. Moreover, rather than being an upset, the treatment of the Windrush generation is all too consistent with Britain’s historical attitude toward those former colonies and dominions that supposedly make up its “family.”
The Commonwealth comprises 53 nations, most of which were once British-ruled, and 2.4 billion people, 94 percent of whom live in Africa and Asia. It is supposedly based on a common language, institutions and values — though, given its size and diversity, the commonality of those values is debatable. Its head is the Queen. In 2002, Boris Johnson, now the foreign minister but then a journalist, wrote: “It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies.” The line is still often quoted for its offensive language; it is less commonly observed that Mr. Johnson was taking a swipe at the monarch for indulging the Commonwealth partly as a vanity project.
Is the Commonwealth more than that?