November 24, 2023 - 2:10pm

Boris Johnson has made his mark on British history. As a result of his brief tenure as prime minister, Britain is now undergoing its most significant period of demographic change since the Anglo-Saxon migration. 

Yesterday’s ONS statistics — showing net immigration figures of 672,000 for 2023, as well as its upward revision of 2022 figures to 745,000 — are entirely unprecedented. The gross figures, revealing that 1.2 million people entered Britain last year, are now equivalent in absolute numbers to the turn-of-the-century immigration wave that transformed America’s demographics. This led to a 40-year restrictionist policy geared towards allowing that far larger and more populous country to integrate its diverse new population. As a surely unintended result of Brexit, the majority of Britain’s new population wave now comes from outside Europe: indeed, this year more migrants came from Nigeria alone than from the entire European Union.

Until recently, conservatives were wont to observe that New Labour’s immigration maximalism transformed Britain. As just one result, London’s ethnic British population fell from 80% in 1991 to less than 37% today, a statistic with few parallels in world history. But the Conservative Party’s devotion to mass migration dwarfs Tony Blair’s efforts, and the results will be even more transformative. 

In 2022 alone, Britain saw more immigration than from every year between 1945 and 2000 combined. Yet, at the same time, the Tories have managed to alienate liberals with their entirely performative restrictionist rhetoric, to the point that many of Britain’s self-declared sensible centrists seem to sincerely believe the Conservatives to be a Right-wing party edging on fascism. 

Precisely the opposite is true: Britain is indeed ruled by political extremists, but on the opposite side of the spectrum. The Conservative Party’s chosen policies reveal our government to be open-border zealots, whose policies are supported by only a tiny fraction of the population. At every available opportunity, British voters have demanded a clampdown on immigration numbers, yet every Tory leader has increased them as a willed policy choice. When even Keir Starmer can describe immigration numbers under the Tories as “shockingly high” and “a failure”, we can appreciate how far our government has departed from centrist norms, as well as from trends across the rest of Europe.

The ONS figures come at an interesting time, when we compare Britain to our closest European neighbours. What distinguishes the UK from the rest of the continent is not just our government’s extremism on migration, but the political placidity of its native population. Just last night, Dublin saw unprecedented anti-immigration rioting after an Algerian migrant was suspected of stabbing four people, including three children, in a primary school. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’s election victory, not to mention a majority among voters aged between 18-35, highlights how even proverbially tolerant, liberal European countries are responding to the continent’s mass migration experiment. Comparisons with France, Spain, Germany, Denmark and Sweden — our closest cultural and geographic neighbours — demonstrate what an extreme political outlier Britain under the Conservative Party has become. 

Yet while the Tories are heading towards electoral oblivion, their radical migration policies present both a threat and an opportunity for Labour. On the one hand, Starmer can emulate the Danish Social Democrats, one of Europe’s few remaining governing Left-wing parties, whose political survival is precisely a product of its turn towards immigration restrictionism. The problem is that many among Labour’s activist base are, on immigration, as much British exceptionalists as the Conservative Party, ideologically committed to demographic change as a positive goal in itself. 

But if we assume that Britain is not somehow immune to the strongly negative reactions to demographic change that have transformed Europe’s politics, then the most likely result, eventually, is the creation of a new political force on the British Right — or a convulsion to dwarf Brexit. The current order is a fragile interregnum: through this government’s failure to pursue moderate conservative policies, British Right-wing politics looks fated to move beyond mere conservatism.

Aris Roussinos is an UnHerd columnist and a former war reporter.