The targets of abuse were the non-white immigrants arriving from the Commonwealth… these are the people perceived to be the threat.


Berlin Wall divides Europe

By August 1961, the Iron Curtain that symbolically divided Europe in two, is made real with the building of the Berlin Wall.

A need for foreign workers in the West

An economic boom in Western Europe creates a need for foreign labour.

In Britain, the British Nationality Act of 1948 had already brought a large influx of migrants from Commonwealth countries.

In France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, large-scale guest worker programmes are established, leading to an influx of foreign labour.

A creaking communist authority in the East

The failed Prague Spring of 1968 showed the limits of peaceful protest in Eastern Europe. Those living under communist rule got by keeping to a strained status quo.

Berlin Wall divides Europe

Border guards on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall, viewed from the western side. | PHOTO BY CLELAND RIMMER/GETTY IMAGES

Berlin Wall

  • Between 1945 and 1961, an estimated 2.5 million people had flooded into West Berlin.
  • The first barrier for the Berlin Wall was constructed overnight on August 12, 1961, in an effort to stop East Germans defecting.
  • On August 13, 1961, Berliners awoke to find themselves separated from friends, family, work and even their homes. In the coming weeks and months, the initial wire barrier was strengthened with concrete walls and guard towers.
  • It did not just go through the centre of the city – it completely encircled all of West Berlin, which was surrounded by the Soviet-controlled German Democratic Republic (GDR).

Eastern Europe was closing itself off from the West.

But at that same time, the West was opening up to the rest of the world.

A need for foreign workers in the West

West Indian immigrants arriving at Southampton in the UK. | PHOTO BY EVENING STANDARD/GETTY IMAGES
We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependants

The British nationality act of 1948

  • During the 1950s, Britain's non-white immigrant population increased rapidly in size.
  • Immigration from the West Indies was encouraged by the British Nationality Act of 1948, which gave all Commonwealth citizens the right to live and work in the UK, regardless of their race or religion.
  • Between 1948-1962, some 500,000 non-white British subjects entered under the legislation.

Europe was experiencing an unprecedented boom.

The European Economic Community (ECC) was profitably absorbing foreign workers while keeping Britain out of its increasingly wealthy club.

Britain's entry into the EEC

  • In 1961 Britain applied for membership of the EEC.
  • In 1963 and again in 1967, French President Charles de Gaulle vetoed the entry of Britain into the EEC.
  • Britain eventually joined in 1973, after Charles de Gaulle’s resignation in 1969.


But as the British government sought integration with Europe, some considered the integration of new arrivals to Britain as a route to ruin.

In 1968, Enoch Powell, a former British government minister and serving member of the Conservative shadow cabinet, delivered a dark vision of a multicultural Britain … and handed the far right new legitimacy.

One group more than any other would seize the opportunity and prey upon public concern.

The 1962 commonwealth immigrants act

  • Efforts to curb immigration in Britain began in 1962 with the Commonwealth Immigrants Act.
  • In response to a perceived heavy influx of immigrants, the government tightened the regulations, permitting only those with government-issued employment vouchers, limited in number, to settle.
  • A passport holder had to be born and naturalised in the UK or have a parent or grandparent who had been born, adopted, or naturalised in the UK, a principle known as patriality.
  • What this Act effectively accomplished was the retention of the right of entry for many citizens of the “old” Commonwealth countries, such as Australia and Canada, while removing this right from the “new” Commonwealth citizens.

One group more than any other, would seize the opportunity and prey upon public concern.

A creaking communist authority in the East

August 29, 1968: Students burning Russian newspapers in Wenceslas Square, Prague, Czechoslovakia, during the Czech crisis. | PHOTO BY REG LANCASTER/EXPRESS/GETTY IMAGES
In Eastern Europe what you see at this time … is the stagnation of the political system

As Western Europe was struggling to come to terms with new arrivals from distant places, in the east, Soviet power was beating back indigenous uprisings.

The failed Prague Spring of 1968 showed the limits of peaceful protest against the iron will of communist control … setting in place an uneasy ‘new normal’.

The 1968 Prague spring

  • The 1968 Prague Spring was a period of political liberalisation in Czechoslovakia during the era of its domination by the Soviet Union after World War II.
  • It began on January 5, 1968, when reformist Alexander Dubcek was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSC), and continued until August 21 when the Soviet Union and other members of the Warsaw Pact invaded the country to halt the reforms.

People in Eastern Europe got by keeping to a strained status quo with the creaking communist authority.

For those in the West, getting by meant getting to grips with transformational change.

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